The Congressional Democratic Women’s Working Group hosted a press conference and rally followed by a Congressional briefing yesterday focused on maternal mortality around the world and the realities faced by women suffering from obstetric fistula. Congresswomen Lois Capps (D-CA), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), Gwen Moore (D-WI), Carolyn Maloney (D-NY, Hilda Solis (D-CA), Jackie Speier (D-CA), and Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) were joined at the press conference and rally by UN Population Fund (UNFPA) Goodwill Ambassador Geri Halliwell, CARE Ambassador Christy Turlington and survivors of obstetric fistula in support of House Resolution 1022.
The bipartisan resolution stipulates Congress’ commitment to reduce maternal mortality both in the US and abroad. With co-sponsorship from over 120 Congressional members, the resolution was considered by the House on Monday May 19th and is expected to pass by the end of the week. Rep. Moore stated that maternal mortality rates are among the clearest indicators of a failing healthcare system, and stipulated that “pregnancy should not be a death sentence.”
“We are here to address an issue that has for too long been swept under the rug because it is difficult to talk about,” Congresswomen Lois Capps said to a packed room of members from the women’s community, family planning advocates and press. “But we simply cannot stand by any longer when half a million women per year die while giving life- one every minute of every day.”
Gerri Halliwell of UNFPA called for the US to release the $200 million dollars in funds for UNFPA withheld by the Bush Administration for the past six years. Rep. Maloney introduced a bill which failed to pass that would have provided for the US funding for UNFPA to be used to help women with obstetric fistula. Rep. Speier said of the failure of the Administration to fund UNFPA that it is “time to take action against [the Administration] when it does not carry out Congressional actions.”
In her remarks, Rep. Maloney stated that “it is a national scandal that we are not part of the world community trying to save these [women’s] lives…In a misguided, political attempt to export our domestic politics on women’s reproductive health…, this Administration has sent a message to millions of women around the world that it doesn’t care they are suffering from preventable conditions, such as obstetric fistula, and it doesn’t care that every single minute of every single day another woman dies somewhere around the world because of pregnancy related causes.” Rep. Maloney also reminded the audience that the last obstetric fistula hospital in the US was in her district on the land now occupied by the Waldorf Astoria.
In addition to the Congresswomen expressing their strong support for investing in women’s health to stop the needless suffering and deaths of millions of women around the world, the audience also heard from Sarah Omega Kindangasi, a survivor of obstetric fistula from Kenya who also lost her baby in childbirth due to inadequate medical care. Kindangasi lived with the condition for twelve years before she was able to get the medical help she desperately needed. She spoke movingly about how many women do not even know that obstetric fistula is not only preventable, but repairable.
The press conference was followed by a briefing held by Rep. Maloney which featured Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-NY) and Rep. Russ Carnahan (D-MO) who both spoke about the extreme lengths women in developing nations must go to in order to access reproductive healthcare, including walking for days to reach the nearest health facility. The briefing also featured the testimony of Carolina Ditina, a fistula survivor and advocate from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and Dr Delores Nembunzu the Medical Director of a fistula clinic in the DRC.