Should we Save the Lives of 23,440 Babies? Should we Save the Lies of 629 Mothers?
From 1995 to 2014, there were on average 184 American deaths from terrorist attacks per year. This fact has led many pundits to declare a vital need to violate the U.S. Constitution and spend many billions of dollars — “whatever it takes,” in the words of Donald Trump — to prevent further attacks.
Consider that in 2012 (the last year for which data is available), 15.9 women died due to their pregnancy for every 100,000 babies born in the United States. 15.9 doesn’t sound like such a big number. But there were 3,952,841 births in the United States in 2012 … which means there were 629 women who died due to pregnancy in the United States that year. That’s nearly four times the number of deaths by terrorism in a typical year.
This death rate can be lower. We can say this with confidence because in the United States, the rate has been lower than it is now. Look at this trend tracked by the Centers for Disease Control:
According to the OECD, it’s possible for pregnancy-related mortality to go lower than this. Here are the pregnancy-related deaths per 100,000 live births in twenty-five other countries in 2012:
No, we can’t possibly stop every pregnancy-related death in the United States, just as we can’t possibly stop every terrorist attack. However, these cross-national statistics indicate that the United States can do much better — and there are far more lives at stake than in terrorist attacks.
Consider that in 2013 (the last year for which data is available), 596.1 babies died for every 100,000 babies born in the United States. If you think that sounds like a big number, consider further that there were 3,932,181 births in the United States in 2013. There were 23,440 who died due to pregnancy in the United States that year. That’s more than 127 times the number of deaths by terrorism in a typical year.
Of course some babies will always die. But the infant mortality rate can be lower. We can say this with confidence because when we look at OECD data, it becomes clear that many nations have a far lower infant mortality rate than the United States. The following are infant deaths per 100,000 births in twenty-eight nations tracked by the OECD:
We can clearly do better in the United States. It’s possible for us to make changes that would save many thousands of American babies’ lives every year. We could save mothers’ lives, too. Why aren’t we talking about pregnancy-related mortality and infant mortality the way we talk about terrorism?
Some of our presidential candidates can’t stop talking about the terrorist threat to our lives — the word “terrorism” appears on one hundred and fifty web pages on Donald Trump’s website, shows up on two hundred and twenty-one pages on Ted Cruz’s website, shows up on one hundred and forty-three web pages on Hillary Clinton’s website, and appears on sixty-seven pages of Bernie Sanders’ website.
These same candidates don’t have much to say about infant or pregnancy-related mortality. Bernie Sanders uses the words “infant mortality” on just two pages of his website. The websites of Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump and Ted Cruz don’t use the words “infant mortality” even once. None of these four presidential candidates mentions pregnancy-related mortality even once.
What justifies this imbalance? Do we care that little about mothers and babies? Or is our attention to terrorism overblown?