Lauren Bloomstein, a neonatal nurse in New Jersey, died on October 2, 2011 after her undiagnosed preeclampsia progressed to its most severe stage, known as HELLP syndrome. Bloomstein’s death was a horrible, preventable tragedy, and she has become symbolic of a growing movement in this country to improve maternal care after childbirth.
A recent investigation by National Public Radio and ProPublica paints a troubling picture of the U.S. approach to such care, arguing that the lack of uniform hospital guidelines, training, and preparedness is leading to medical errors with devastating consequences, resulting in the United States having a worse rate of pregnancy-related maternal death than any other developed nation.
Writing for Slate, maternal-fetal physicians Cara Heuser and Chavi Eve Karkowsky applauded the NPR piece for calling attention to the U.S.’s “unacceptably high rate of maternal mortality,” but rejected the notion that errors in care are a significant cause, pointing to what they see as the “real” problems behind maternal mortality: poverty, health care, and “access to family planning, including contraception and abortion services.”
Oh, now I see. We wouldn’t have so many women dying in childbirth if they weren’t getting and staying pregnant. I’m not being flippant. Here are Heuser and Karkowsky in their own words:
And that brings us to another vital aspect of reducing maternal mortality: abortion. As maternal-fetal medicine doctors, we have both had many patients whose pregnancies have become high risk, higher risk, and ultimately catastrophically risky, only after conception. In those situations, as experts in saving women’s lives in pregnancy, we have been able to offer termination of the pregnancy as an option. … We have both seen what has happened when a woman continues a dangerous pregnancy; we both know first-hand that sending a woman home safe from a pregnancy that might have killed her is a gift of irredeemable value. Abortions can, and regularly do, save women’s lives.
Except, of course, for the lives of the female babies who are being aborted.
According to Heuser and Karkowsky, the best thing you can do if you care about maternal mortality is to tell your representatives to keep voting for “what we all deserve—access to care, which includes health care, contraceptive care, and abortion care.”
The truth, of course, is that the U.S. health care system is already slanted heavily in the direction of the woman’s reproductive “rights,” with no legal requirement that a woman either notify or get consent from her child’s biological father before aborting that child. It is an irony of head-banging proportion that a country that uses a woman’s health and wellbeing to justify the taking of another life seems suddenly less interested in that wellbeing once her baby is born. It is equally ironic that a country that allows its citizens to choose whether or not an unborn child gets to live becomes, at that child’s birth, so dedicated to preserving it that the life of the mother becomes secondary.
Slate was right to praise the NPR piece. NPR was right to run it. Would that we could find articles on both Slate and NPR about the need to properly care not only for all mothers but for all babies, from conception to birth and beyond. When that happens, perhaps we will be able to take them seriously when they write about health care.