Earlier this month, Democratic Representative Gwen Moore introduced a bill in the House to tackle the skyrocketing infant mortality rate in the United States – a nation that prides itself on having the best healthcare in the world, despite the fact that its infant mortality rate is higher than most of the developed world, and some of the Global South as well.
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With 6.1 deaths for every 1,000 live births, the U.S. lags behind countries like France and Norway, but also former Eastern Block nations and others struggling to maintain adequate health care, like Greece with its flailing economy, and Poland, where reproductive rights are severely restricted. The survival rates of infants in the United States should be a subject of deep shame, and Rep. Moore is one of the people who wants to take a proactive approach to addressing them. Congressional Republicans, however, have other ideas.
A law aimed at researching neonatal mortality in the United States and developing programs to protect infant welfare seems like a gimme. People on both sides of the aisle should be able to generally agree that liking babies isn’t a controversial subject, and that looking into why so many infants die in the United States should be a national health care priority.
While Democrats and Republicans may disagree on the best way to administer health care in the United States, and may have opposing views on other aspects of reproductive rights like access to birth control and abortion, the ability to have safe, healthy, happy babies is a critical human right – and one the Right frequently claims to be defending when it attempts to restrict access to contraception and abortion.
However, anti-choice members of Congress aren’t supporting the bill, for a rather petty reason: Rep. Moore consulted with Planned Parenthood while developing it, and the organization supports it. Her decision to work with the organization was a sound one – Planned Parenthood provides a range of neonatal health care services, primarily to low-income patients, and thus it has a great deal of experience in the subject. Since low-income women are most at risk of having something go wrong with their pregnancies or in the first year of an infant’s life, the organization’s existing work could be a vital part of the puzzle when it comes to deconstructing why it’s so dangerous to be an infant in America.
However, the right’s staunch opposition to Planned Parenthood in all forms, even by association, means that those who consider themselves pro-life may be voting against a bill that theoretically speaks to the concerns they express when talking about pregnancy.
This issue isn’t just politicized because of Planned Parenthood. It’s also become racialized. Writing in 2015, Rep. Moore noted that infant mortality rates for Black children were three times higher than those of white children, highlighting the fact that racial inequality is a huge contributor to access to health care and well baby services. Black parents are more likely to be poor, and more likely to be living in communities with inadequate health care options. Their pregnancies are more at risk as a result, and so are their infants.
“One of the most significant steps we can take in improving birth outcomes and preventing infant deaths,” she wrote, “is investing in health education and services for women including prenatal care, proper health screenings, and instruction on healthy habits and proper nutrition.” This addresses short-term policy needs, but her bill acknowledges the need for more longitudinal study.
She wants states to gather more information after infant deaths and stillbirths, using this information to learn more about which populations are most at-risk and how deaths are occurring. The bill also includes counseling and support services for families dealing with the tragedy of the loss of an infant – something that can be particularly hard for stillbirths or premature infants who die shortly after birth, as parents may be uncomfortable when it comes to talking about miscarriages, feeling isolated because their infants never got a chance to meet their community.
Planned Parenthood isn’t the only group she worked with while drafting the legislation. Rep. Moore also consulted government agencies, children’s health advocates, leading research hospitals and more, all with the goal of developing balanced, effective legislation on the subject. Far from politicizing infant death, she’s trying to eliminate it, using the power of the U.S. Congress and the resources of the United States to bring the country’s infant mortality rate more in line with advanced counties like Israel, most European Union members and Australia. Or, for that matter, Cuba.
Yet, given past records when it comes to other legislation supporting well baby care and addressing concerns about neonatal mortality, conservatives likely won’t get behind this bill, especially because it’s associated, very proximally, with Planned Parenthood. Instead, they’ll be busy with a blizzard of legislation advocating for fetal personhood, defunding Planned Parenthood, and stripping the public services that parents vitally need to care for young children.