People really need to stick to speaking about their expertise, and in some cases, not speak at all. Republicans across the country are speaking loudly and wrongly about reproductive health and, in at least one case, even body-shaming everyone who opposes the right wing’s ideas about bodily autonomy while doing so.
Ohio state Rep. Bill Dean doubled down on recent comments, calling rising U.S. maternal mortality rates a “myth” by blaming high maternal mortality on “lifestyle choices to do with abortions and weight.”
“I’m not a physician,” Dean began and should have stopped. “But,” he continued, “I would imagine, a lot of times, it’s the lifestyle of the lady that’s having the pregnancy,” he told the Dayton Daily News. “We also have the most obese people in the whole world. It’s just individual cases.”
The comments follow earlier ones in which Dean the Dayton Daily News that “there’s no great risk of dying from pregnancy,” adding that ectopic pregnancy “doesn’t count.” Ectopic pregnancies, which account for about 2% of pregnancies, are the leading cause of maternal mortality during the first trimester. They occur when the fertilized egg implants outside the uterus. While Dean believes there’s no death risk associated with pregnancy, the reality is the U.S. has the highest maternal mortality rate among wealthy nations.
What’s worse is that 80% of pregnancy-related deaths in the U.S. are preventable. According to the CDC, these deaths are a result of high costs and limited access available to health care. Race plays a role in access to health care and disparities—Black people are three to four times more likely to die of pregnancy-related causes than their white counterparts, and American Indian maternal mortality is also “disproportionately high” compared to their share of the population.
The stats are horrific, and the fact that a public official currently tasked with legislating the parameters of medical decisions is ignorant of them is even worse.
When asked by the Dayton Daily News about his stances on abortion last week, Dean defended them and said: “Pregnancy is a natural thing that women are made for. That’s the way God made them.”
He added: “The myth is that it is dangerous; it’s no more dangerous than living every day.”
Clearly, Dean has no idea what he’s talking about, I mean, he even admitted that he’s not a physician. So essentially, Dean believes that while there is no risk associated with pregnancy, the mortality rate of pregnant people is due to lifestyle choices and obesity.
While obesity does often impact health, there is no correlation between obesity and maternal mortality rates. Dean, who is no expert on the matter, is clearly making such claims to distract from the problem at hand and his lack of knowledge on the topic.
The risk of pregnancy-related death worsened during the pandemic. According to CDC data, it climbed in the U.S. to 23.8 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2020. That’s the average; it was already higher than that for certain racial and ethnic groups, who have also seen their likelihood of safely delivering a live child and living through that delivery diminish.
Of course, while Dean believes pregnancy has no risk—unless you’re fat—he argued that abortion does have risks. He also claimed that the true numbers of abortion-related deaths were hidden by “crooks and liars.” According to the Commonwealth Fund, in 2018, there were 17.3 deaths per 100,000 live births in the United States compared to 0.41 deaths per 100,000 reported legal abortions in the same year.
To explain, Dean decided to drop a little casual racism into his claims. “The heathen for millennia murdered unborn babies. If we do that, we’re just as heathen as they are,” Dean said.
Dean also claimed that a majority of abortions are done for convenience, a claim his competitor, Democratic Ohio Statehouse candidate Jim Duffee, who is a doctor, pushed back against.
“Late trimester gestational abortions are almost never by convenience,” Duffee said. “They’re almost always related to life-threatening conditions for the mother or the baby, or severe chromosomal and genetic malformation that places mother and baby in danger.”
Duffee, a retired pediatrician and Dean’s challenger for the District 71 seat of the Ohio House of Representatives, also commented on other claims made by incumbent Dean.
“Although most pregnancies are joyous occasions, pregnancy is a dangerous time for women,” Duffee said. “The Republican candidate’s lack of understanding of this issue reveals his lack of interest in solving a problem that affects many families he wants to represent.”
According to Duffee, the state’s current abortion laws are putting pregnant people at further risk by creating a legal gray area on exceptions when it comes to treatment. As a result, doctors may delay life-saving treatment until one of the conditions listed is clearly met in order to avoid prosecution, Duffee told the Dayton Daily News.
“Maternal mortality will increase with the abortion ban,” Duffee said. “Currently, if a healthy young woman comes in, her fetus is at 18 weeks, and her water breaks, that fetus is unsalvageable. It will not survive. Currently, the only way to save her life is to wait until she’s deathly ill.”
“The government should not be in that decision,” Duffee added. “The more the government is in it, the more likely we will cause harm.”
What one has to go through in order to receive the proper healthcare needed in the country is becoming scarier and more drastic each day. Abortion is a necessary and often-needed health procedure. Pregnancies do come with risks, and the maternal mortality rate needs to be taken more seriously in the U.S.
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