Yesterday, U.S. Rep. Yvette Clark of New York introduced the Global Sexual and Reproductive Health Act of 2010, a comprehensive new framework for U.S. international assistance for reproductive and sexual health services. The legislation calls for increased support for family planning and maternal health services worldwide, prevention of unsafe abortions, and sexuality education for adolescents.
The introduction of this bill comes on the heels of a new study published in The Lancet, indicating that maternal mortality rates have begun a dramatic decline in 23 countries. Still, more than 340,000 women die every year due to preventable complications from pregnancy or childbirth. Half of the world's maternal deaths occur in just six countries: India, Nigeria, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Ethiopia, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. And maternal mortality has actually increased in the United States since 1980.
Think for a moment: somewhere in the world, one woman dies nearly every minute from a complication of pregnancy or childbirth. The death of any woman is not only a loss to her family and community; it diminishes us all. Yet we hear so little about maternal mortality, and few religious institutions have made maternal mortality a major social justice issue.
We're hoping to change that. With the support of the United Nations Foundation and more than 50 nationally recognized religious leaders, the Religious Institute has launched the Rachel Sabbath Initiative: Saving Women's Lives to educate religious communities about the need to reduce maternal mortality and promote universal access to reproductive health services. The initiative is named for the Hebrew matriarch Rachel, who died in childbirth (Genesis 35).
As religious leaders, we seek to create a world where the rights of every woman to life, health, and safe childbirth will be protected. We urge religious leaders to:
- Educate themselves and their faith communities about the global crisis of maternal mortality and the urgent need for sexual and reproductive health services.
- Seek training to competently address the sexuality and reproductive health needs of individuals and families within their own congregations.
- Publicly advocate for increased support for maternal health and reproductive health services, domestically and globally, through support for the Global Health Initiative and the Global Sexual and Reproductive Health Act of 2010.
- Call on faith-based health delivery organizations to ensure access to the full range of sexual and reproductive health care services.
- Work within their faith traditions to make the reduction of preventable maternal mortality a social justice priority.
- Speak out against restrictions on access to sexual and reproductive health services, and support women's and girl's access to education and employment.
On Mother's Day (May 9), we are asking congregations of all faiths to honor mothers worldwide and to offer prayers for those women who die giving birth to the next generation. So far, more than 100 congregations around the country have agreed to participate. Can we count on you to get involved? Go here to sign up and download a responsive reading and a bulletin insert to use in your congregation.
Surely there is common agreement across all religious traditions that no woman, anywhere in the world, should lose her life creating a new one. We hope you'll join with us.