My children are now 17 and 25. As Mother's Day approaches, I can't help but feel nostalgic for the long-gone days of homemade cards and macaroni bracelets. There's nothing I'm prouder of than being their mother, and I am blessed to have them as part of my life.
But we know that all too often, and for too many women, pregnancy is not always a cause for celebration. In the United States alone, half of all pregnancies are still unintended despite widespread availability of contraception. In nations lacking access to family planning services, the situation is even more dramatic, with new analyses showing that unintended pregnancies around the world could drop by more than two thirds, from 75 million in 2008 to 22 million per year if universal family planning services were available.
It is inconceivable to me that some who are anti-abortion are also anti-contraception. As The Open Letter to Religious Leaders on Maternal Mortality and Reproductive Justice states: "The sacredness of human life is best upheld when women and men create human life intentionally and women are able to have healthy pregnancies and childbirths. We affirm women and men as moral agents who have the capacity, right, and responsibility to make their own decisions about procreation, including family size and the spacing of their children."
Access to maternal health care, contraception and family planning services can and should be available to all women, regardless of nationality, geography, economic status or other factors. It is a moral outrage that somewhere in the world one woman dies nearly every ninety seconds from a complication of pregnancy or childbirth. The United Nation's Millennium Development Goals has the prevention of maternal mortality and universal access to family planning as a central goal, even as some in the U.S. Congress are threatening access to these services in the United States and globally.
The national discussion about family planning over the past months has not been about improving women and children's health but rather about defunding Planned Parenthood, defunding international family planning, cutting funding for Title X programs and women and infant care programs -- all at a time when the need for these services is greater than ever. Current analyses estimate that every $100 million cut from overseas family planning and reproductive health care programs will result in 5,000 more maternal deaths, 23,000 children losing their mothers, and many more catastrophic outcomes.
Yesterday's House vote on HR3 would enact strict requirements for private insurance companies that cover abortions, deny tax credits to small businesses that purchase health insurance plans offering abortion coverage (about 87% of such plans), and would eliminate privately funded insurance coverage for abortion in the state-based exchanges set up by the Affordable Care Act. Those who would deny support for family planning are not only hurting women, but also their children, families and communities. For all of us this is fundamentally a matter of life and death.
I will be preaching on these issues as part of my Mother's Day sermon. In doing so, I will be joining religious leaders and congregations from diverse faiths who are using this Mother's Day as an opportunity to call attention to issues of maternal mortality, family planning, and access to health care. (Click here to learn more about this action, called the Rachel Sabbath Initiative, named after the matriarch from the Hebrew Bible who died in childbirth. I hope you will join me in calling for religious leaders and faith communities to promote universal access to reproductive health care).
Mother's Day is ultimately about children just as much as it is about their mothers. We need to be sure that all children are loved, cared for, and nurtured. What better way to do so than working to prevent needless maternal deaths?
Surely all of us can agree that no woman should lose her life giving birth to the next generation. Let us all commit to universal access to family planning and health care so that every day can be Mother's Day.