Monday, December 20, 2004

Knock, Knock? Who's dead?

As I wander the world of the world wide web I come across lots of data and register conclusions that lodge in the wrinkles of my mind, but which I can’t recall the exact source for. One of these hidden gems that has lodged itself firmly therein is the little known fact that the #1 cause of maternal death of pregnant women in this country is homicide, specifically at the hands of an intimate partner (husband, boyfriend, ex). Not complications from pregnancy, or miscarriage, or abortion, or car accidents. Homicide. I believe I picked this us while culling through some domestic violence information which indicated that an individual woman’s personal risk of being a victim of domestic abuse (be it fatal or not) skyrockets once she becomes pregnant. For some reason, the fact that about 6% of all pregnant women will be victims of physical abuse by intimate partners stuck.

This statistic surprises people. But it looks like someone in the mainstream media is finally beginning to pay attention, probably in part due to recent national news (Laci Peterson and Lori Hacking) headlines. Today MSNBC is highlighting a study done by the Washington Post that delves deeply into the issue. Some of their conclusions, which may be startling to some (but not so much to women’s rights activists):

“Until recently, many of the cases have gone virtually unstudied, uncounted, untracked. Police agencies across the country do not regularly ask about maternal status when they investigate homicides. And health experts have focused historically on the medical complications of pregnancy — embolism, hemorrhage, infection — not on fatal violence.” In fact, due to a lack of tracking this data, thirteen states have absolutely no way of telling how many pregnant and postpartum women had been killed in recent years. "

“The FBI collects comprehensive homicide statistics but does not look at pregnancy. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tracks maternal health but has no uniform way of monitoring maternal killings.”

“In Maryland, which keeps track of cases better than most states, slightly more than 10 percent of all homicides among women ages 14 to 44 happened to a pregnant or postpartum woman in the past decade. If that held true nationally, it would suggest about 295 maternal homicides nationwide a year.”

“For some men, she said, the situation boils down to one set of unadorned facts: "If the woman doesn't want the baby, she can get an abortion. If the guy doesn't want it, he can't do a damn thing about it. He is stuck with a child for the rest of his life, he is stuck with child support for the rest of his life, and he's stuck with that woman for the rest of his life. If she goes away, the problem goes away."

Frankly, it surprises me that this information surprises anyone. Our society is so quick to romanticize pregnancy (the whole abortion debate, etc.) , and so quick to hold pregnant women responsible for everything they do that might adversely affect the fetus in utero ( alcohol, OTC drugs, caffeine, etc.) but they totally ignore the 800 lb gorilla in the room – abusive male partners. Forget for a minute the risk to the mother herself (which is tragic enough). Let’s remember that for every dead pregnant woman there’s a dead fetus (unless, you know it’s ripped out of her gut by a crazed stranger. Though, stranger danger by default is left out of this study). For every woman who is abused during pregnancy and survives, there’s a damned high likelihood that her child, once born will be abused as well.

So the big question. What to do about it? I’m very curious to see what, if anything Shrub & Co. will attempt. My bet’s on nothing. Maybe beat their heads a little harder against the brick wall that they call abstinence-only sex education. Once again, say “this is another terrible reason why you just shouldn’t have sex!” and totally ignore the underlying causes. Of course, I’m also betting that the Father’s Rights group jumps on this study as well for their cause, and will say “see, *this* is the extreme you drive us to with the draconian state sponsored slavery you call child support!”.

Once again doing absolutely nothing to promote the single most effective way of avoiding this issue altogether: Promoting a culture of Planned Parenthood, which teaches responsible methods of contraception, makes those available, and provides a financial safety net for mothers who do end up pregnant. Where every child conceived is wanted, and guaranteed to be taken care of.

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