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A Lancet report released this week indicates that maternal deaths have dropped 35 percent globally in the past 30 years.

While countries such as India, Egypt and Bangladesh have seen significant decreases in maternal mortality, the report also highlights an upward trend in maternal deaths in several high- income countries, including the United States and Canada, despite the global decrease.

“This report demonstrates that investing in women works and that we can save the lives of hundreds of thousands more women each year by redoubling our investments in women in the U.S. and around the world,” said Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. “Despite delivering encouraging news about women’s health worldwide, this report sounds the alarm about a disturbing trend in which an increasing number of women in the United States are dying from pregnancy-related deaths. This shocking finding underscores the need for ensuring that women have access to the kind of preventive health care that Planned Parenthood provides and supports here and around the world.” 

The report in the Lancet, one of the world’s top journals of medical research, analyzes data from 181 countries and estimates that the annual number of maternal deaths has dropped from 526,300 to 342,900 between 1980 and 2008. The report also indicates that the maternal mortality rate (the number of women dying for every 100,000 live births) has decreased from 422 in 1980 to 251 in 2008. The study was conducted by researchers at the University of Washington in Seattle, Washington and the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia.

This data demonstrates that investments in women and women’s health over the past 30 years have ensured that fewer women die from pregnancy-related causes. The report credits the decrease in maternal mortality to four driving factors: a decline in the total fertility rate; an increase in income per capita; an increase in maternal education; and increased access to skilled birth attendants. The significant increase in women’s access to reproductive health services, education and economic opportunity has played a central role in these improvements. 

While this trend is very encouraging, still too many women continue to die as a result of pregnancy and childbirth, and the drop in maternal deaths remains well behind the world’s commitment to reduce maternal mortality by 75 percent between 1990 and 2015. It is crucial to note that globally, 215 million women globally want to use modern contraception but do not have access to it, and 70,000 women die from unsafe abortion every year. The upward trend in maternal deaths in the United States is alarming. We must increase investments in services that we know save lives and that we know women need — in family planning, safe abortion care, and safe childbirth, in nutrition and public health, and in education and economic empowerment for women here and abroad.

Now is the time to intensify our efforts to further reduce the maternal mortality rate.  President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have acknowledged the importance of increasing investment in women. In the 2011 budget, the administration proposed a record $715.7 million for international family planning and reproductive health and $700 million for maternal and child survival. Congress can show its commitment to saving the lives of women around the world by approving this budget.


Planned Parenthood Federation of America


PPFA Media Office, 202-973-4882


May 14, 2014