What are politicians doing about the shameful infant mortality rate?

The infant mortality statistics are out again. This always depresses me because: 1) The rates are atrociously high, and, 2) There is so much legislation passed to restrict abortion in the name of “life,” but politicians and judges seems awfully silent on infant mortality.

In the United States 6.4 infants out of every 1,000 born will not reach their first birthday. This is more than 24,000 infant deaths a year. The United States is also the leader in the industrialized world for infants dying on the day they are born. Over 35% of neonatal and infant deaths are the result of a premature delivery. As an OB/GYN I’ve delivered many tiny babies destined to die and my son, Aidan, is part of that data set … a child sharing a date of birth and date of death due to prematurity. I know this tragedy and sadness only too well.

It’s not that lowering the infant mortality rate isn’t possible, politicians who are pro-life can be assured that dramatically reducing the infant mortality rate is possible. In Iceland the infant mortality is 1.6 per 1,000 births.

It’s not that we’re not spending enough on health care. In the U.S. we spend $8,508 per person each year for health care (compare that with $5,699 for Norway and $4,522 for Canada) or close to 18% of our gross domestic product. We spend more than any other industrialized country on health care and yet more babies die here on the day they are born than any other industrialized country.

So why isn’t any of this of interest to pro-life politicians? Shouldn’t they be outraged that more than 75% of these deaths are preventable? And not only are they preventable, but given the money we spend on health care this just shouldn’t be happening. It’s mind-boggling. Really.

Study after study shows that high quality accessible maternity care dramatically lowers the rate of premature delivery (it doesn’t have to be expensive, in fact, the right care isn’t very expensive at all). It is possible to get the prematurity rate into the 6% range (it is approximately 12% now). We have laws mandating transvaginal ultrasounds and admitting privileges, so why not laws to mandate the right kind of maternity care?

Teen pregnancy is a factor, a complex mix of biology and the social circumstances that lead a teen to get pregnant. Why wouldn’t pro-life organizations an politicians be promoting long-acting reversible contraception so teens can delay child-bearing to a time when they are more likely to have a healthy outcome for both mom and baby? Instead of mandatory “women’s right to know” bullshit about breast cancer and abortion (there is no link, but the Federal courts say that doesn’t matter, in some states doctors just have to lie and say there is), why not mandatory information about long-acting reversible contraception for junior high students?

Maternal obesity is also a factor. And smoking. And obviously addressing these causes would also make for healthier women who are less likely to die from cardiac disease, diabetes, or lung cancer. Why don’t the politicians shut down big tobacco and ban trans fats?

We also have a disturbingly high rate of multiple deliveries through the misuse of assisted reproductive technologies. In Europe where the number of embryos that can be implanted is strictly regulated the incidence of multiples is dramatically lower than the United States, although the pregnancy rate is the same. Europeans just more likely to take home one baby at term. Professional societies have balked at regulating ART. If we are going to regulate abortion clinics in the name of life, why not infertility clinics? I mean the professional societies are too afraid to tackle it, so, why not?

But no, the shameful American infant mortality rate will likely be in the headlines for a day or two and then pass out of sight and the people who are in a position to actually make change? Well, they’re probably too busy crafting more abortion legislation to notice.

Jennifer Gunter is an obstetrician-gynecologist and author of The Preemie Primer. She blogs at her self-titled site, Dr. Jen Gunter.

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