U.S. women rank 15th in reproductive health risk (2001)

March 7, 2001

Web posted at: 10:28 p.m. EST (0328 GMT)

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – American women face greater risks to sexual and reproductive health than women in Singapore, Australia and most of Europe, while African women are at highest risk, a global study reported on Wednesday. The United States ranked 15th in a survey of 133 countries released by Population Action International (PAI) to coincide with International

Women's Day on Thursday. Italy topped the list, Ethiopia was at the bottom, the study found.  The low U.S. ranking was given because while most American women get excellent prenatal care, the United States has more teenage mothers than any other industrialized country, the study said, reflecting a lack of reproductive health information available to young women and girls.

Patterns were clear from the top-10 and bottom-10 lists: nine of the 10 riskiest countries for women's reproductive health were in Africa -- the only exception was Afghanistan. At the top, eight of 10 were European countries; the other two were Singapore and Australia.

The United Kingdom, Canada, France and Austria were just outside the top 10. To put together the risk index, PAI and the relief organization CARE considered the number of births to teenagers and women, contraceptive use, prevalence of HIV and AIDS, access to prenatal and childbirth care, deaths during pregnancy and childbirth, abortion policy and anemia in pregnant women.

There are currently 150 million women in poor countries who want contraception and do not have access to it," said PAI President Amy Coen in a telephone news conference. "Educating girls is crucial to alleviating poverty...but we also know in our own lives that when we want to limit family size, we need contraception."

Reproductive health key issue for poor

Citing statistics that contributed to PAI's global ratings, Coen said that a woman in Ethiopia has a one-in-10 chance of dying of childbearing-related problems, while a Spanish woman has one chance in 9,000 and a woman in the United States has one chance in 3,500.

Maurice Middleberg, head of CARE's health and population unit told Reporters that good reproductive health was essential to his organization's mission of alleviating poverty: "Poor reproductive health is as much a danger to families as a loss of a crop or loss of income." Both Coen and Middleberg worried about a "chilling effect" on family planning organizations around the world that may be felt as a result of  President George W. Bush's decision to ban the use of U.S. funds for international  family planning groups that also provide abortion services. U.S. Rep. Mark Kirk, an Illinois Republican who favors abortion rights which puts him at odds with Bush and many in the Republican party -- said he took "encouragement" from the fact that Secretary of State Colin Powell favors abortion rights and could act as "one of the decision-makers" on this issue.

Copyright 2001 Reuters. All rights reserved.

Elizabeth Amaya-Fernandez
Program Associate
Comprehensive School Health Initiative
Public Education Network
601 13th Street, NW, Suite 900 North
Washington, DC  20005
202-628-1839  fax

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