CDC releases new report on national maternal mortality rates

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The United States continues to have the highest maternal mortality rate of any developed country, according to the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics. A new report presenting the most recent data on maternal mortality found that in 2021, there were on average 32.9 deaths per 100,000 live births across the country. In total, 1,205 women died of maternal related causes in the United States in 2021. To place these statistics in a global context, the UK has an average of 9.6 maternal deaths for every 100,000 births.    

The CDC’s report shows a significant increase in maternal mortality compared to the previous years. The average rate in 2020 was 23.8 per 100,000 and in 2019, 20.1. Additionally, the report highlights a disturbing racial disparity, with Black women experiencing a staggering 69.9 deaths per 100,000 births in 2021, as opposed to White women’s rate of 26.6 per 100,000. The shocking death of Olympic sprinter Tori Bowie last week due to childbirth complications exemplifies the pervasiveness of this issue, even amongst the healthiest top athletes.    

The COVID-19 pandemic clearly exacerbated the country’s maternal mortality crisis, but the impact of the rise in abortion restrictions cannot be ignored. The states with the highest rates of maternal mortality are Arkansas, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Alabama, closely followed by many other Southern states. These states have between 41.4 and 43.5 deaths per 100,000 live births. Unsurprisingly, all four of these states have some of the country’s harshest abortion restrictions, with near total bans on abortion. Even prior to the overturn of Roe v. Wade, access to abortion in these states was extremely limited.   

In contrast, California has the country’s lowest maternal mortality rate, with only 4 deaths per 100,000 births. Abortion access is enshrined in the state constitution. Under California law, anyone who is pregnant has a legal right to choose to have an abortion before viability or, in life threatening instances, at any time throughout the pregnancy. The California state legislature also passed a bill to ensure no one in California will be “investigated, prosecuted or incarcerated for ending a pregnancy or experiencing pregnancy loss.” 

It is no coincidence that access to reproductive healthcare correlates with low levels of maternal mortality. A 2020 report by the Commonwealth Fund found that states with heavily restricted abortion access had 62% higher maternal death rates than states where abortion was more easily accessible. Many abortion bans criminalize healthcare providers and doctors fear losing their license, being fined, or imprisoned for performing an abortion, even in a medical emergency. Pregnant individuals may then be forced to resort to illegal and unsafe abortion options. The closing of clinics that offer abortion also decreases access to pre- and post-natal care, along with other vital reproductive healthcare services. 

Maternal mortality is a grave public health issue within the United States, intensified by institutional racism and misogyny. Access to women’s reproductive healthcare, before, during, and after pregnancy, must be prioritized and protected. It is, quite literally, a matter of life or death.  

Female pastors ousted from the Southern Baptist Convention

RNS photo by Emily Kask

A controversial movement within the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) to remove women from leadership positions has resulted in the expulsion of five female-led churches from the denomination. Among them is the Saddleback Church of California — one of the largest megachurches in the country, with about 30,000 people attending church services weekly. Saddleback Church was founded by Pastor Rick Warren, author of “The Purpose Driven Life” and one of the country’s most influential evangelical leaders. After retiring, Warren appointed a husband and wife team as his replacements, despite the backlash from the ultra-conservative sect of the SBC.        

Pastor Mike Law from Virginia is at the forefront of this pushback against perceived “liberal threats.” He circulated a list of 176 female pastors that he identified at SBC churches across the country and proposed an amendment to the SBC constitution to prohibit women in leadership roles. The amendment states that a church could be Southern Baptist only if it “does not affirm, appoint or employ a woman as a pastor of any kind.” More than 2,000 male pastors signed a letter in support of this proposal. The executive board of SBC has decided to allow its members to vote on the amendment at this week’s convention.   

This expulsion of women from leadership positions comes at a time when the SBC is under harsh scrutiny for the reports of sexual abuse of women and children in the church. An investigation found that top church officials, all men, suppressed reports of sexual abuse for two decades, and have still not taken action. The leadership of SBC continues to create a toxic culture of intimidation and shame to silence survivors of sexual abuse.     

The SBC has a long history of deeply rooted misogyny, and this newest attack on women comes as no surprise. The church has taken a strong stance against same-sex marriage, LGBTQ rights, reproductive healthcare, and critical race theory, while supporting traditional gender roles. In 2000, the church passed a doctrine stating that a woman “is to submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband.” The SBC’s most prominent female pastor, Beth Moore, left the church in 2021 citing in an open letter the “attitudes among some key Christian leaders that smacked of misogyny, objectification and astonishing dis-esteem of women.” 

Membership in Southern Baptist Convention churches has been declining for more than a decade, which can clearly be attributed to the years of sex abuse cover ups and the divisive fundamentalist takeover within church leadership. In response to the Saddleback Church’s expulsion from the SBC, Pastor Rick Warren issued an apology to women in the church: “I publicly apologize to every good woman in my life, church and ministry that I failed to speak up for in my years of ignorance. Shame on me.” It is unlikely that the SBC will follow his example and stand up for the rights of women in their denomination.  

Supreme Court rules to protect the Voting Rights Act

Photo from Aurora Samperio/NurPhoto via ZUMA Press

In a surprising win for voting rights and racial justice, the Supreme Court voted last week to reaffirm a decades old precedent prohibiting racial gerrymandering. The decision centered around Alabama’s legislative districts, where a Republican led redistricting plan would result in White voters becoming the majority in six out of seven districts, even though one in four voters in the state is Black. Following the Supreme Court’s decision, Alabama must now create a second majority-Black district to ensure more equitable representation. Chief Justice John Roberts and Brett Kavanaugh joined the three liberal justices in the decision. 

Gerrymandering has unfortunately become common practice in many states to rig elections in favor of one party by diluting the influence and voting power of a specific demographic of voters. “Rather than voters choosing their representatives, gerrymandering empowers politicians to choose their voters,” writes Julia Kirschenbaum from the Brennan Center for Justice. Oftentimes, the groups targeted by gerrymandering efforts are communities of color, due to the correlation between political party and race. State and local governments have the ability to redraw voting district boundaries once every decade following the Census Bureau’s release of population data. Now, we are seeing the impact of this new round of redistricting as a result of the 2020 Census.   

The Supreme Court’s latest ruling upheld the 1965 Voting Rights Act which prohibited racial discrimination in voting and declared that Alabama’s legislature has denied Black voters the ability to be represented in the state government and win political power. This is expected to have a significant impact across other states in the South, such as Louisiana, Georgia, Mississippi and Texas, requiring them to redraw congressional lines to avoid violation of the Act. There are currently 31 active federal cases involving similar Voting Rights Act racial redistricting issues. 

The right to vote is a fundamental aspect of our democracy and the manipulation of the political process for partisan gains cannot continue. The Feminist Majority calls on Congress to pass federal election reforms, such as the Freedom to Vote Act, to ensure our elections are protected from unconstitutional voter suppression and racial gerrymandering.           

Protect Choice Ohio Coalition Pushes for Ballot Initiative on Abortion

Since the overturn of Roe v. Wade last summer, abortion access in Ohio has been hanging in the balance. After the Supreme Court decision, a 6 week ban on abortion went into immediate effect throughout the state. The ban is currently on hold by an Ohio judge and pro-choice groups are working to protect abortion access in the state once and for all.

The Protect Choice Ohio Coalition has filed paperwork for a ballot initiative on abortion for the November 2023 elections. The activists will need to collect more than 400,000 signatures from a minimum of 44 counties in order to qualify to be on the ballot. The measure would establish “a fundamental right to reproductive freedom” with “reasonable limits” in the Ohio state constitution and would require “restrictions imposed past a fetus’ viability outside the womb to be based on evidence of patient health and safety benefits.”

The pro-choice coalition is composed of organizations such as Ohio Physicians for Reproductive Rights (OPRR), Planned Parenthood, and the ACLU. The Feminist Majority has partnered with OPRR to assist in the signature collection. OPRR has organized more than 2,200 physicians and medical professionals to fight “to guarantee that Ohioans have access to safe, legal, and equitable reproductive medical care, including abortion.”  Dr. Lauren Beene, the executive director, has said that the ballot measure will “preserve the doctor-patient relationship and empower all people to make their own reproductive health care decisions without interference from the government, lobbyists and politicians.”

This strategy of advocating for a ballot initiative to protect abortion rights has proven successful in many other states. In 2022, Kansas shocked the country by overwhelmingly voting to reject an anti-choice ballot measure. Using this momentum, activists in California, Kentucky, Michigan, Montana, and Vermont secured abortion protections for their states in the midterm elections as well. The Feminist Majority is confident that Ohio will see the same result.

If you are interested in helping Protect Choice Ohio gather signatures, find more information here:  

Sources: The Guardian 2/21/23; AP 2/21/23; Protect Choice Ohio

Record Breaking Audience for Women’s NCAA Championship

Earlier this week, LSU and Iowa’s women’s basketball teams drew a record number of viewers as they competed for the collegiate championship. With 9.9 million viewers on ABC and ESPN2, the game became the most-viewed NCAA women’s basketball game in history. Basketball fans across the country tuned in for the game. At its peak, the game had 12.6 million viewers, surpassing the NBA men’s finals’ average of 9.89 million in 2021 and busting the myth that women’s sports are not as popular as men’s.  

This game would not have been possible without the tireless work of women’s rights advocates to pass Title IX — the 1972 federal civil rights law that prohibits sex-based discrimination in any school or education program that receives federal funding. Title IX is most widely known for its impact on high school and college athletics, dramatically increasing women’s participation in sports. In 1972, only 300,000 women and girls in the United States were playing either college or high school sports. By 2021, that number grew to 3 million. The Feminist Majority has been involved in the fight for Title IX protections for decades and continues to be an active member of the National Coalition for Women and Girls in Education.

Congrats to the LSU women’s basketball team on their victory!     

Sources: ESPN 4/3/2023; MSNBC 4/3/2023; NBC Sports 6/6/2022

Midterm elections deliver major victories for abortion rights

While votes continue to be tallied following yesterday’s midterm election, results show resounding support for abortion rights across the country. Five states had reproductive freedom directly on their ballots, and polls demonstrated that abortion rights were a major concern for many voters, especially young women, on either side of the political spectrum as they entered the voting booth. A recent survey conducted by Lake Research Partners for Feminist Majority Foundation found that 55% of young women voters in battleground states said abortion and women’s rights combined are the top issues determining their votes. The outcome of the election proved this right. 

Energized by Kansas’ win for abortion rights in August, activists saw double-digit victories in California, Michigan, and Vermont, as voters chose to amend their state constitutions to include the right to reproductive freedom. Even voters in Republican-leaning states, Kentucky and Montana, decidedly rejected efforts to restrict abortion access, showing once again that the majority of Americans support abortion rights and reproductive freedom, regardless of political party. Continuous attacks on abortion rights motivated pro-choice voters to turn out in November and protect women’s autonomy over their own bodies.

In Nevada, with 77% of the votes currently counted, the Equal Rights Amendment is leading with 57.1% of voters saying yes to prohibiting discrimination against groups that have been historically targeted. Nevada will become the 27th state to adopt its own version of the ERA.

As we wait for the last few states to finalize their results, let’s take a moment to celebrate the steps that have been made towards equality since the overturn of Roe v. Wade, but also recognize the amount of work left to be done to protect fundamental rights.

We won’t go back.   

Iranian Women Leading Unprecedented Protests

“Woman. Life. Freedom.” This is the chant that has been heard around the world as Iranian women lead an unprecedented revolution for freedom in their country. The nationwide protests were triggered by the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who died in the custody of the morality police after she was arrested for not properly wearing a hijab. The protests have been centered around high schools and universities, with the average age of protestors who have been arrested being just 15. Scenes of schoolgirls ripping off their headscarves, yelling “death to the dictator” flood Western media. The Iranian government has responded with a brutal and violent state crackdown and the death toll amongst the protestors has risen to at least 201, including 23 minors.

Since the Iranian Revolution in 1979, any progress that Iranian women had made in securing their rights has been reversed. Women were at the forefront of the revolution to overthrow the shah, exemplifying a long history of feminist resistance in Iran. However, the revolution led to the establishment of the Islamic theocracy and, to the disbelief of the women revolutionaries, the ayatollah quickly began a prolonged attack on women’s rights.

A few of the restrictions that have since been placed on women in Iran include:

  • Women cannot travel, work, go to school, or even leave the house without the permission of their husband or father.
  • A woman’s life is valued at one-half the value of a man’s life.
  • The testimony of one man is equal to the testimony of two women.
  • Daughters get half the inheritance that sons get.
  • A woman does not have the right to divorce her husband.
  • A man can divorce his wife any time he wishes, even without her knowledge.
  • Men are allowed to marry four “permanent” wives and as many temporary wives as they want.
  • Children belong to their father as soon as they are born.
  • The age of criminal responsibility is set at fifteen for boys, but only nine for girls.
  • The law sanctions the marriage of girls at the age of thirteen, but gives fathers the right to sell their daughters at the age of nine.
  • Women who do not wear a hijab can be imprisoned for up to two months and may be required to pay fines of up to 500,000 rials.
  • Women are responsible for fulfilling their husbands’ sexual needs. Failure to do so can lead to a wife losing her right to spousal support.

Unfortunately, this list goes on. Amini’s death was the last straw for Iranian women; they now feel that no one is safe from the government’s violence. Amini was not a political activist and was not intentionally making a statement with her hijab. She could have been anyone’s mother, sister, or daughter. The Islamic republic has continued to minimize the scale of the protests, calling them “scattered riots.” After decades of failed lobbying for reforms, a new generation of activists has accepted that the only way forward is with an overthrow of the regime and the establishment of a democratic and secular government. Barriers of fear have been broken down and the protestors are bolder than ever.

As Shirin Ebadi, an Iranian political activist, attorney, and Nobel Peace Prize recipient, told CNN, “Women will open the gate to democracy in Iran.”


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