(WOMENSENEWS)– Now is the time for reproductive justice activists, including the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, to begin the battle for the hearts and minds of the American public. The polls tell us repeatedly that most American people support access to abortion.

Nevertheless, a sizable minority consistently manages to pass laws and policies that limit abortion‘s availability, especially for women and teens who need it most.

This is literally killing us. Quality maternal health care, available contraception and access to abortion are the three pillars of reducing maternal deaths. The U.S. maternal mortality rate has doubled since 1990, even as more and more anti-choice political leaders amped up their campaigns and re-elections with promises, too often fulfilled, to limit access to contraception and abortion.

It’s time to let all the American people know in every way possible that the United States is the only developed nation in which maternal mortality is rising, and with 60,000 near-deaths per year from pregnancy complications. African American women die seven times more often than their white counterparts. There is virtually no research to explain why this is so. Health care officials estimate that tragically the deaths are avoidable between 50 and 93 percent of the time.

Right now, Congress is once again threatening to defund Planned Parenthood, the largest provider of health care to U.S. women.

This month David Daleiden, a 26-year-old undercover agent of the far right, released a second video, on July 21, about Planned Parenthood’s policies for fetal tissue and he claims more are on their way. The videos misinform yet continue to inflame the public and set the agenda for a highly emotional national debate.

Anti-Abortion Laws Rise

Anti-abortion laws continue to be introduced, passed and signed with ever increasing speed by ambitious political leaders with no heed to women’s well-being.

Case in point: Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker announced his campaign for the presidency and a week later, July 20, he signed into law limiting abortions to less than 20 weeks of pregnancy. The law makes it a felony for a physician to perform an abortion at 20 weeks; has no rape or incest exception and permits abortions for women pregnant 20 weeks or more only if continuing the pregnancy would risk her death or serious injury within in 24 hours.

In response to this onslaught, women’s rights groups have funded and fought lawsuits and successfully put a halt to the laws’ implementations. But the new laws keep coming, despite federal court opinion after court opinion ruling the laws are unconstitutional.

In the most recent case, U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down on July 22 a North Dakota statute that barred abortions when a fetal heartbeat can be detected–generally about six weeks into a pregnancy. A victory, but it may prove to be a pyrrhic one: The court’s ruling included a request for the Supreme Court to revisit its precedents regarding abortion laws and to give states more leeway to restrict women’s access to abortion.

Thus, while these lawsuits challenging the laws are irreplaceable, they are also insufficient. It is up to all of us to transform the political landscape to the point that being anti-choice is toxic for anyone running for public office.

The issue of access to abortion absorbs the attention, energy and financial resources of many women’s rights and health organizations, while the rise of maternal mortality and maternal morbidity is routinely ignored by pro-choice advocates and those who dare to call themselves pro-life.

I would like to see women’s advocates put the anti-abortion and anti-contraception forces on the defensive for what they are: Organizations that are putting all women and teens at risk; not only for back-alley abortions but also for dying from pregnancy-related causes.

What do I mean exactly? I am talking about putting photos of mothers who died in childbirth on the sides of vans, on highway billboards, on websites, in protests outside the meeting places of the anti-choice candidates and elected officials and the organizations that finance them, including the Koch Brothers oil refineries. Slogan: She died giving life. Tag line: The U.S. maternal death rate is rising. Take action today to support quality maternity care. Hashtag: #savewomenslives.

Void in Political Will

Many factors are at play in the rising maternal mortality rate. One big factor is the vast number of pregnant women without health insurance, clustered in the 19 states that have yet to expand Medicaid. In Georgia, the state with the highest maternal mortality rate, 26 percent of women in childbearing years have no health insurance. A second major factor is the lack of protocols in hospitals to treat emergencies during labor and the following months, such as too much bleeding, stroke and infections.

The underlying cause, however, is the void in political will.

Abortion is but one element of ensuring the reproductive health of women and teens: first is excellent maternal health care, contraception is a second, and third, abortion. In the United States, excellent maternity care is the exception. Access to contraception is consistently constrained. Legal abortions are regularly being limited by anti-choice legislation. Hospitals encourage unnecessary Cesarean sections, increasing risks for deadly complications.

While the current class of Republican presidential candidates is competing to demonstrate their support for the most extreme anti-abortion initiatives, more women are dying because they were pregnant and did not receive the care they needed.

It is time to put the anti-life forces on the defensive for who they are and what they really stand for: Preventable deaths of healthy young women.

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