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First Lady Urges More Global Attention to Maternal Health

April 08, 1998| From Associated Press

WASHINGTON — In the time it took Hillary Rodham Clinton to deliver her World Health Day speech, she said, an estimated 15 women died around the globe from pregnancy complications or unsafe abortions.

"No woman should ever die in childbirth," Mrs. Clinton declared Tuesday, calling for renewed global attention to maternal health. "The vast majority of these deaths and so much of that suffering could have been avoided."

Nearly 600,000 women and girls, most in developing nations, die each year while pregnant or in labor because of complications, including self-induced abortions, according to the World Health Organization and UNICEF.

Breaking down the statistics, Mrs. Clinton said that every minute, a woman or girl dies, 40 have unsafe abortions, 110 experience a pregnancy-related problem and 190 face an unplanned pregnancy.

Mrs. Clinton, speaking to several hundred health care professionals and private and public policymakers at World Bank headquarters, said countries should develop better family planning and education programs for women and children to combat maternal mortality.

On that point, she criticized conservative members of Congress who each year try to block U.S. government money for international family planning, which critics contend lead to abortions.

"Without it [family planning] women often turn in desperation to illegal, unsafe abortion procedures that can account for up to half or more of all maternal deaths," Mrs. Clinton said.

"I would like to stress that point because there are some in our Congress and in our country who do not understand how providing family planning services helps reduce the rate of abortion."

Mrs. Clinton, who last week returned from a 12-day tour of sub-Saharan Africa with President Clinton, noted that she and her husband visited projects promoting women and children to underline U.S. support for "human rights and particularly the right to health."

Supporting Mrs. Clinton at the World Health Day celebration, Malaysia's first lady, Siti Hasmah Mohd Ali, called for the elimination of "cultural and social taboos" that often prevent women and girls from making their own reproductive decisions.

"Safe motherhood is a basic human right," she said.

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