Susan Yoshihara

Drop in global maternal deaths doesn’t mean maternal health improving

Susan Yoshihara
By Susan Yoshihara

NEW YORK, May 25 (C-FAM) - Around the world almost half as many women die in childbirth as they did 20 years ago, a new UN report says. The good news hides the sad fact that for women in many countries who want more children, they will go on risking their lives to have them.

On a global level, there are fewer maternal deaths because there are fewer babies being born. On an individual level, fewer pregnancies can lower the odds that a woman might die in childbirth. But where mothers choose to have large families, they remain at high and even extreme risk according to the new report. Women in low income countries have a 1 in 56 chance of dying related to childbearing, while the risk for women in rich countries is 1 in 4200.  In sub-Saharan Africa, the risk is 1 in 39, four and a half times the world average.

For years the world’s foremost aid agencies have made family planning the top priority in addressing maternal health, in an effort to further quash fertility. Medical interventions that actually address maternal health—such as skilled birth attendants and antenatal care—have been kicked down to second or third place on the funding list.

One reason is that agencies find it easier to dispense contraception than to overhaul far away health systems. Another is that they can measure “contraceptive prevalence” more easily than they can assess qualitative improvements in medical care. In an era of fiscal constraints and donor demands for accountability, particular agency interests drive funding priorities that may not make much medical sense.

Take for example UNFPA’s executive director Babatunde Osotimehin’s response to the new numbers. In the same words his predecessor used regarding previous reports with vastly higher numbers, Osotimehin promoted even more family planning saying, “We know what to do, we know how to do it. We will just continue to scale up on this.”

Also driving the maternal health agenda are strict targets set at the international level that don’t necessarily reflect local realities. At the turn of the century, world leaders agreed to slash the maternal mortality rate in their countries and across the globe 75% by 2015.

Every one of the countries that has met the goal experienced a drop in fertility according to UN estimates. Of those ten, every developing country except one had a dramatic decline. The remaining, European, countries on the list already had fertility rates below 2 children per woman, and dropped even further.

Conversely, one third of the women who died in childbirth in 2010 were from India or Nigeria, where poverty remains high and family sizes are relatively large on average. All in all, a woman faces high risk of death to bring a child into the world in 40 of the 180 countries assessed. A woman from Chad or Somalia, who had more than 6 children on average during 1990-2010, had the highest lifetime risk in the world. Those war-torn nations are the only ones with “extremely” high maternal mortality according to the report.

And so even though the report boasts, “All MDG regions experienced a decline in maternal mortality rates,” there is no indication that global efforts prioritizing family planning, have made a difference for poor women or women in countries that favor large families.

In fact, the maternal mortality rate could be far higher than experts think. The mortality rate is high in places where data is most scarce. The report admits that good data only exists where a slim 15% of the births are occurring, mostly in the developed world. There is no data at all for 27 of the 180 countries surveyed, and 88 more lack “good” data. In essence, despite improved data gathering and analysis, no one really knows how bad it is for most mothers. The report concludes that “it is not possible to fully explain why some countries had steeper declines than others, or why some made no progress.”

In contrast to the UN’s prioritization of fertility reduction through family planning, health ministers gathered in Washington last month emphasized better maternal health care and delivery systems. Dominican health minister, Dr. Bautista Rojas, said “key components” of that country’s program are “emergency obstetric care…a series of maternal care practices focused on saving lives, and a system of on-the-job training and supervision using checklists,” that increased the quality of care.

Cambodia’s Dr. Mam Bunheng credited success to the end of war, economic growth, improved roads, cell phones, more and better health centers, and trained midwives. His country offers “midwifery incentives” that provide $15 to a health center and $10 to a referral hospital for every live birth at their facility. Reversing the position of international aid agencies, the Cambodian health minister listed family planning next to last on a list of six challenges his country faced, putting newborn survival, links to hospitals, and improved quality of care at the top.

The drive to reduce pregnancies as the main way to reduce maternal deaths remains unchanged since the decades of previous UN reports asserting that more than 500,000 women die in childbirth annually. The UN was compelled to revise that number to nearly half after a group of independent researchers at the University of Washington challenged UN data and methodology in 2010. At that time, some researchers argued that their UN colleagues were compromised by also having a policy-setting role. This is the second consecutive edition of the UN report that compares its methodology to that of the independent researchers, effectively conceding that they are no longer the gold standard in maternal health research.

Reprinted with permission from C-fam.org


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Quebec groups launch court challenge to euthanasia bill

LifeSiteNews staff
By LifeSiteNews staff

As announced when the Quebec legislature adopted Bill 52, An Act respecting end-of-life care, the citizen movement Living with Dignity and the Physicians’ Alliance against Euthanasia, representing together over 650 physicians and 17,000 citizens, filed a lawsuit before the Superior Court of Quebec in the District of Montreal on Thursday.

The lawsuit requests that the Court declare invalid all the provisions of the Act that deal with “medical aid in dying”, a term the groups say is a euphemism for euthanasia. This Act not only allows certain patients to demand that a physician provoke their death, but also grants physicians the right to cause the death of these patients by the administration of a lethal substance.

The two organizations are challenging the constitutionality of those provisions in the Act which are aimed at decriminalizing euthanasia under the euphemism “medical aid in dying”. Euthanasia constitutes a culpable homicide under Canada’s Criminal Code, and the organizations maintain that it is at the core of the exclusive federal legislative power in relation to criminal law and Quebec therefore does not have the power to adopt these provisions.

The organizations also say the impugned provisions unjustifiably infringe the rights to life and to security of patients guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms. They further infringe the right to the safeguard of the dignity of the person, which is also protected by the Quebec Charter.

In view of the gravity of the situation and the urgent need to protect all vulnerable persons in Quebec, they are requesting an accelerated management of the case in order to obtain a judgment before the Act is expected to come into force on December 10, 2015.


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Colorado baker appeals gvmt ‘re-education’ order

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By LifeSiteNews staff

A Colorado cake artist who declined to use his creative talents to promote and endorse a same-sex ceremony appealed a May 30 order from the Colorado Civil Rights Commission to the Colorado Court of Appeals Wednesday.

The commission’s order requires cake artist Jack Phillips and his staff at Masterpiece Cakeshop to create cakes for same-sex celebrations, forces him to re-educate his staff that Colorado’s Anti-Discrimination Act means that artists must endorse all views, compels him to implement new policies to comply with the commission’s order, and requires him to file quarterly “compliance” reports for two years. The reports must include the number of patrons declined a wedding cake or any other product and state the reason for doing so to ensure he has fully eliminated his religious beliefs from his business.

“Americans should not be forced by the government – or by another citizen – to endorse or promote ideas with which they disagree,” said the cake artist’s lead counsel Nicolle Martin, an attorney allied with Alliance Defending Freedom. “This is not about the people who asked for a cake; it’s about the message the cake communicates. Just as Jack doesn’t create baked works of art for other events with which he disagrees, he doesn’t create cake art for same-sex ceremonies regardless of who walks in the door to place the order.”

“In America, we don’t force artists to create expression that is contrary to their convictions,” added Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Legal Counsel Jeremy Tedesco. “A paint artist who identifies as homosexual shouldn’t be intimidated into creating a painting that celebrates one-man, one-woman marriage. A pro-life photographer shouldn’t be forced to work a pro-abortion rally. And Christian cake artists shouldn’t be punished for declining to participate in a same-sex ceremony or promote its message.”

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In July 2012, Charlie Craig and David Mullins asked Jack Phillips, owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop, to make a wedding cake to celebrate their same-sex ceremony. In an exchange lasting about 30 seconds, Phillips politely declined, explaining that he would gladly make them any other type of baked item they wanted but that he could not make a cake promoting a same-sex ceremony because of his faith. Craig and Mullins, now represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, immediately left the shop and later filed a complaint with the Colorado Civil Rights Division. The case now goes to the Colorado Court of Appeals as Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Craig.

“Jack, and other cake artists like him – such as those seen on TV shows like ‘Ace of Cakes’ and ‘Cake Boss’ – prepare unique creations that are inherently expressive,” Tedesco explained. “Jack invests many hours in the wedding cake creative process, which includes meeting the clients, designing and sketching the cake, and then baking, sculpting, and decorating it. The ACLU calls Jack a mere ‘retail service provider,’ but, in fact, he is an artist who uses his talents and abilities to create expression that the First Amendment fully protects."

Celebrity cake artists have written publicly about their art and the significant expressive work that goes into the artistic design process for wedding cakes.


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Prisoner of conscience Mary Wagner appeals her conviction

Tony Gosgnach
By Tony Gosgnach

TORONTO -- As promised, Mary Wagner has, through her counsel Dr. Charles Lugosi, filed a formal notice of appeal on numerous points regarding her recent, almost two-year-long court case that ended on June 12.

Justice Fergus O’Donnell of the Ontario Court of Justice rejected every application made by the defence – including for access to abortion center records, public funding, standing for a constitutional challenge and for expert witnesses to be heard – before he found Wagner guilty and sentenced her to five months in jail on a charge of mischief and four months on four counts of failing to comply with probation orders.

He further levied two years of probation, with terms that she stay at least 100 metres away from any abortion site. However, because Wagner had spent a greater time in jail than the sentence, she was freed immediately. She had been arrested at the “Women’s Care Clinic” abortion site on Lawrence Avenue West in Toronto on August 15, 2012 after attempting to speak to abortion-bound women there. She then spent the duration of the trial in prison for refusing to sign bail conditions requiring her to stay away from abortion sites.

Wagner is using the matter as a test case to challenge the current definition of a human being in Canadian law – that is, that a human being is legally recognized as such only after he or she has fully emerged from the birth canal in a breathing state.

Wagner’s notice states the appeal is regarding:

  • Her conviction and sentence on a single count of mischief (interference with property),
  • Her conviction and sentence on four counts of breach of probation,
  • The order denying public funding,
  • The order denying the disclosure of third-party records,
  • The order denying the admission of evidence from experts on the applicant’s constitutional challenge concerning the constitutional validity of Section 223 of the Criminal Code,
  • The order denying the admission of evidence from experts concerning the construction of Section 37 of the Criminal Code,
  • The probation order denying Wagner her constitutional rights to freedom of speech, freedom of expression, freedom of conscience and freedom of religion on all public sidewalks and public areas within 100 metres of places where abortions are committed,
  • And each conviction and sentence and all orders and rulings made by O’Donnell.

In the notice of appeal, Lugosi cites numerous points on which O’Donnell erred:

  • He denied Wagner her constitutional right to make full answer and defence.
  • He denied Wagner her right to rely on Section 37 of the Criminal Code, which permits “everyone” to come to the third-party defence and rescue of any human being (in this case, the preborn) facing imminent assault.
  • He decided the factual basis of Wagner’s constitutional arguments was a waste of the court’s time and that no purpose would have been served by having an evidentiary hearing on her Charter application because, in the current state of Canadian law, it had no possibility of success.
  • He misapplied case law and prejudged the case, “giving rise to a reasonable apprehension of bias and impeding the legal evolution of the law to adapt to new circumstances, knowledge and changed societal values and morals.”
  • He accepted the Crown’s submission that it is beyond the jurisdiction of the courts to question the jurisdiction of Parliament legally to define “human being” in any manner Parliament sees fit.
  • He ruled Section 223 of the Criminal Code is not beyond the powers of Section 52 of the Constitution Act, 1982.
  • He ruled Section 223 of the Criminal Code does not violate the Preamble to, as well as Sections 7, 11(d), 15 and 26, of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
  • He denied Wagner standing to raise a constitutional challenge to the validity of Section 223 of the Criminal Code.
  • He ruled that Section 223 of the Criminal Code applied generally throughout the entire Criminal Code and used it to deny unborn human beings the benefit of equal protection as born human beings under Section 37 of the Criminal Code.
  • He denied the production and disclosure of third-party records in the possession of the “Women’s Care Clinic” abortion site, although the records were required to prove Wagner was justified in using reasonable force in the form of oral and written words to try to persuade pregnant mothers from killing their unborn children by abortion.
  • He denied Wagner the defence of Section 37 of the Criminal Code by ruling unborn children did not come within the scope of human beings eligible to be protected by a third party.
  • He ruled Wagner did not come within the scope of Section 37 because she was found to be non-violent (in that she did not use physical force).
  • He ruled the unborn children Wagner was trying to rescue were not under her protection.
  • He denied Wagner the common-law defences of necessity and the rescue of third parties in need of protection.
  • He denied Wagner public funding to make full answer and defence for a constitutional test case of great public importance and national significance.
  • He imposed an unconstitutional sentence upon Wagner by, in effect, imposing an injunction as a condition of probation, contrary to her constitutional rights of free speech, freedom of expression, freedom of conscience and freedom of religion.

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Among the orders Lugosi is seeking are:

  • That an appeal be allowed against conviction on all counts and that a verdict of acquittal be entered on all counts,
  • That Section 223 of the Criminal Code be found unconstitutional  and contrary to Section 52 of the Constitution Act, 1982, as well as the unwritten constitution of Canada,
  • That the sentence be declared unconstitutional and contrary to Section 52 of the Constitution Act, 1982, and the unwritten constitution of Canada or that a new trial be conducted, with Wagner permitted to make full answer and defence, be given standing to make a constitutional attack on Section 223 of the Criminal Code, with the admission of expert witnesses,
  • That the Women’s Care Clinic abortion site be made to produce third-party records pertaining to patients seen on August 15, 2012 (when Wagner entered the site),
  • And that there be public funding for two defence counsels at any retrial and for any appeal related to the case.

No date has yet been established for a decision on the appeal or hearings.

A defence fund for Wagner’s case is still raising money. Details on how to contribute to it can be found here.


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