Mothers' Rights charter urges better health care in poor nations

By Michelle Bauman

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New embankment terraces to fight off drought in Kenya. Credit: Debbie DeVoe, CRS.

A recently-drafted charter on the rights of mothers calls for improved health care resources to help reduce the devastating numbers of maternal deaths in developing nations such as Africa.

“People over there don't have very much voice,” said Dr. Robert L. Walley, executive director of MaterCare International, a worldwide group of Catholic gynecologists and obstetricians.

“The only voice they've got is ours.”

Walley told EWTN News on Aug. 21 that while the modern world emphasizes the rights of women, it largely ignores their rights as mothers.

He pointed to the U.N.'s Millennium Development Goals, observing that the goal which has seen the least progress is the aim to reduce maternal mortality by 75 percent by 2015.

Helping mothers is “not politically important” to leaders of the Western world, where maternal mortality rates are relatively low, he said, but the problem is severe in poor areas of Africa and other regions.

In addition, he observed, the money that is dedicated towards solving this problem is poorly allocated, often going towards contraception and abortion rather than adequate health care for mothers.

Melinda Gates recently made headlines with a plan to secure over $4 billion dollars to promote contraceptives in poor areas such as Africa. However, Walley said that his own experience working with the people of Africa has shown him that contraception is not what the people want or need.

“They want to have babies,” he explained, and they need solutions that make motherhood safer, not programs that prevent it.

Statistics indicate that over 300,000 women die each year due to complications during pregnancy, labor or after delivery, leaving approximately one million children motherless.

Most of these deaths take place in developing nations, where the causes of death for these poor and vulnerable women include hemorrhage, infection and obstructed labor, as well as hypertension, malaria, HIV, severe anemia and complications of abortion.

However, MaterCare International believes that up to 90 percent of these lives could be saved by providing the proper equipment and trained personnel to prevent and treat these health problems.

Walley has been working internationally in recent months to promote the Charter of Mothers’ Rights that was recently unveiled by his organization.

Drawing from statistical evidence and Catholic teaching, the charter emphasizes the dignity of motherhood as a “special vocation of women” and a “key to healthy families and societies.”

While the Universal Declaration of Human Rights calls for “special care and assistance” for mothers and children, governments and other organizations often fall short in taking “practical and effective action” to make this care a reality, it says.

Furthermore, while the Catholic Church has “a long history of providing maternity care,” its efforts are undermined and threatened by discriminatory policies by governments and populations agencies that disagree with its stance on life and procreation, the document says.

The charter outlines the rights of mothers, which include freedom from coercion and respect for one’s beliefs, as well as treatment and care aimed at the survival of both the mother and her child.

“Every mother must be allowed and enabled to welcome the gift of her child,” it says.

It also recognizes the rights of mothers to receive adequate prenatal and post-partum care, including education, support and counseling as needed.

Mothers also have a right to skilled care and a safe and clean environment for delivery, as well as specialized care in the case of complications, it explains.

The charter also highlights the “special obligations of Catholic obstetricians and midwives.” It emphasizes the importance of medical competence and Catholic convictions, as well as compassion and an appreciation for community.

To ensure that the rights of mothers are respected, the charter calls for the Catholic principles of subsidiarity, solidarity, the right to life and the common good to be utilized.

MaterCare International has worked to create “a model of comprehensive rural obstetrical care especially for developing countries.”

The model addresses frequent causes of disease and death in village communities, including a lack of sufficient facilities, equipment, trained medical professionals, transportation and communication capabilities.

However, Walley said, the group has had difficulty securing funding from governments, due to high levels of bureaucracy and technicalities.

Rather than relying solely upon governments, he said, there is a need for private support from the faithful.

Catholics honor Mary for her relationship as the mother of Christ, Walley explained, and we can further act upon that love to help women in need, showing that “we as a Church do care about mothers.”

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