“Pro-Life” Mississippi Has Highest Infant Mortality Rate in the Nation

breaking ground
White dudes in Mississippi inexplicably gleeful about breaking ground for an anti-abortion “memorial to the missing” (no, for real). No word on whether they’re helping to dig graves for the 481 Mississippi-born babies who died in 2005 — 65 more than the previous year, as the “pro-life” policies that these smiling men promote take stronger hold. Also no word on whether any of the $10,000 (or more) that they’re raising will be used to actually promote the health of pregnant women or babies. Or even to help buy headstones for the graves of infants born to poor mothers, some of which are currently being marked with metal signs.

According to a national “pro-life” organization, Mississippi governor Haley Barbour, who has pushed a series of anti-choice laws, has made his state “the safest place in America for an unborn child.”

Too bad the same can’t be said for born children,
as Mississippi now has the highest infant mortality rate in the country.

Barbour is so “pro-life” that he has made medical care — including pre-natal and children’s health care — harder to get.

As a result, the number of non-elderly people, mainly children, covered by the Medicaid and CHIP programs declined by 54,000 in the 2005 and 2006 fiscal years. According to the Mississippi Health Advocacy Program in Jackson, some eligible pregnant women were deterred by the new procedures from enrolling.

Mississippi now has the highest infant mortality rate in the country (and other “pro-life” states in the South aren’t doing much better). In Mississippi, 11.4 babies die per every 1,000 live births (compared to 6.9 per 1,000 nation-wide, as of the last time national data was collected). Alabama, North Carolina and Tennessee. Louisiana and South Carolina also saw increases in infant mortality. To put that in context, Mississippi has an infant mortality rate right around that of Uruguay, Ukraine, Macedonia, and Bosnia & Herzegovina. Mississippi’s infant mortality rate is twice as high as that of Germany, Canada, the Netherlands, Slovenia, Singapore, Norway, and a slew of other countries.

Mississippi also has the third-highest teen pregnancy rate in the country. And the second-highest rate of child poverty.

Interestingly, a postelection comparison found that “red” states had higher infant mortality rates than “blue” ones. In general, states that restrict abortion spend far less money per child than prochoice states on services such as foster care, education, welfare and the adoption of children who have physical and mental disabilities, according to a 2000 book by political scientist Jean Reith Schroedel.

Schroedel also found that women in antiabortion states are worse off than their counterparts in prochoice states. They suffer from lower levels of education, higher levels of poverty, and a larger gender gap in earnings. They are also less likely to enjoy mandated insurance coverage for minimum hospital stays after childbirth. Together, the conditions make for an abysmal reality for women in Mississippi, which came in fifty-first in a 2004 ranking of the status of women in the fifty states and Washington, DC, published by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

It’s not a coincidence that the most “pro-life” states are the worst places to be born. There has long been a connection between pro-choice policies and healthy women, healthy families and healthy babies. Healthy women make for healthy babies — and pro-choice policies, which value women’s health, affirm women’s humanity, and embrace women’s general well-being, make for healthy women. It should not surprise us that the same people who fetishize fetal life at the expense of women’s lives don’t really give a damn once that fetus becomes a baby. It shouldn’t surprise us that when states under-value women and consider us incubators unworthy of basic self-determination and control over our own reproduction, that women are less healthy, and children suffer because of it.

The most “pro-life” countries in the world are some of the worst places for women’s and children’s health. The most “pro-life” states in this country are the worst places in the nation for women’s and children’s health. When “pro-life” policies dominate, infant and maternal mortality spikes, women are under-educated, poverty rises, and children go hungry.

But remember: It’s “pro-lifers” who love teh babies. Because, well, they say so.


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About Jill

Jill began blogging for Feministe in 2005. She has since written as a weekly columnist for the Guardian newspaper and in April 2014 she was appointed as senior political writer for Cosmopolitan magazine.
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49 Responses to “Pro-Life” Mississippi Has Highest Infant Mortality Rate in the Nation

  1. Arianna says:

    Out of curiosity, I looked up where that would put Mississippi if it were a nation… it would be wedged between Macedonia’s 11.74 and Netherlands Antilles 10.37.

  2. Marksman2000 says:

    White dudes in Mississippi inexplicably gleeful about breaking ground

    Racial remark.

    Time for rehab, Jill.

  3. Bitter Scribe says:

    The governor of the state with the highest infant mortality rate in the U.S. says, in perfect seriousness, that his state is “the safest place in America for an unborn child.”

    You just can’t make this shit up. Do these people have their sense of irony surgically extracted, or what?

  4. RKMK says:

    Racial remark.

    Time for rehab, Jill.

    Racial, technically, but not derogatory. Anybody want to talk about the surge in infant mortality In Mississippi now?

  5. norbizness says:

    You should also check the divorce rates in Red States… of course, to be perfectly fair, Newt Gingrich is largely responsible for that phenomenon by himself.

  6. Hawise says:

    You would think that a ‘memorial for the missing’ would involve finding missing children separated from their families. There seems to be a serious logic gap in there somewhere.

    Marksman, I have German/Welsh skin and those men out white me by a long shot and my dad warned me about guys who wear patent leather shoes ;)

  7. ginmar says:

    Did you notice the nice little slams against the women in the article? They were described as having ‘not a lot of get up and go’ or something like that, and a few other things.

  8. Jill says:

    Did you notice the nice little slams against the women in the article? They were described as having ‘not a lot of get up and go’ or something like that, and a few other things.

    Oh yes. But I was already so ready to hit something anyway that I couldn’t bring myself to write about it. I would have thrown my computer across the room.

  9. shannon says:

    I think a ‘pro life’ ideology also goes along with a generally more conservative ideology which doesn’t permit much mercy for the poor or those women who they think should have closed their legs. There is probably something about racism in there too.

  10. kactus says:

    Did you notice the nice little slams against the women in the article? They were described as having ‘not a lot of get up and go’ or something like that, and a few other things.

    Absolutely, ginmar, but I think the authors felt it was ok to be sexist too, as long as they were piling on the classism and judgemental attitudes. If these had been upper middle class women, for whom a pregnancy, planned or not, can be discretely “taken care of” they wouldn’t have had an article.

    there has to be some way to separate the real problems of poverty, reduced prenatal care, lack of medical insurance, and infant mortality, from the judgementalism that always seems to accompany articles like this. As long as you can study women in poverty like bugs under a microscope, you can feel safe that this couldn’t possibly happen to you or yours.

    Frustrating, to say the least. Oh hey, and lets throw in the fat-bashing “obesity epidemic” too, just to wrap it up nicely as the women’s own damn faults!

    I honestly felt toward the end that perhaps the writers thought those dead babies were maybe a bit better off, after all.

  11. kactus says:

    One of the things that welfare rights activists predicted, lo these many years ago when the welfare deform debate was heating up, was that more babies would die, but that because they would be mostly the babies of women of color, it wouldn’t seem like such a disaster. Gosh, to think that we were right, and if only somebody had listened.

  12. kactus says:

    *that last sentence was snarky, for the snark-impaired.

  13. johanna says:

    I linked this article on my blog too – I’d put money on Mississippi also being a state with abstinance only sex ed and little family planning money. I cannot imagine having to bury a child, especially for something preventable . . . just awful.

  14. johanna says:

    oh, and PS – $10,000 for a “Memorial to the Missing”? Shit, you’d think they could use that money, to, hmm, I dunno, actually buy some prenatal vitamins to pay for a part time home visitor, or something a bit more constructive. But,oh wait, that would actually mean having compassion for women and children! Actually giving a crap that actual babies are dying at a shameful rate in your state!

  15. kate says:

    Absolutely Kactus, I said and my colleagues said it and I think we’ve only seen the beginning of the turning back of women’s and children’s progress. Nothing will change soon enough until the left gets its head of out its proverbial middle class ass. No offense to blogs like feministe that are doing a bang up job of pointing in the right direction.

    Marksman said:

    Racial remark. Time for rehab, Jill.

    You trying to be cute Marks or you just clueless? Jill’s comment is right on. When an individual or a group of like persons enjoys the fruits of institutionalized oppression due to their privileged status, lies about it and gets away with it, it should be called on. Calling out these men’s privilege by virtue of race and gender and how their activities cause extraordinary suffering and oppression to those on exactly the opposite end of the social spectrum, then I say “Word girl, call it!”

    That such makes conservatives all jittery and uncomfortable and causes to writhe and squint out some lame efforts at snarkiness entertains me.

  16. exangelena says:

    Yeah, the “tips the scales at 300 pounds” or whatever it was, really pissed me off.
    Divorce stats? Top ten: NV, AR, WY, ID, KY, FL, MS, AL, TN, WV.
    Infant mortality? Top ten: DE, MS, LA, AL, SC, ND, TN, GA, NC, AR.

  17. Angie says:

    Oh, but Mississippi is a great place for children! I mean …


    Children’s Rights Inc. filed a 2004 federal class action suit on behalf of the state’s 3,500 foster children under the care of the Mississippi Department of Human Services. CRI called the situation “very extreme” noting that “What has been particularly troubling about it is that the extent of the deprivation in the state’s child welfare system has been so well recognized for so long, and yet no actions have ever been taken to remedy them.”
    How long? Oh, just since 1992!! Oh sure, it’s just a few thousand living children who are suffering, but hey, back to that MEMORIAL TO THE MISSING!!11

    There’s a huge mega-church on the outskirts of the town I live in (Hattiesburg, Mississippi) that has a giant lawn full of white crosses. All of these crosses symbolize babies MURDERED by abortion. They all have “identities” on them. Like…Nurse, Laywer, Pastor, Mother. It’s disgusting and immoral, especially in light of REAL state of living, suffering Mississippi children.

    Note in the article about how a PRIVATE organization has taken over in a neighboring county, providing services, like busing women to appointments and sending visitors to the home, that the state should be responsible for. That seems to have made a difference. WHAT A SHOCKER! At least that organization can legitimately call itself “Christian.” The rest of these hypocrites, however, should be ashamed.

  18. Dianne says:

    Mississippi governor Haley Barbour…has made his state “the safest place in America for an unborn child.”

    Ooh, excellent. I presume that the governor has enacted laws making prenatal care free under state medicaid regardless of maternal income or situation, increased funding to WIC to improve maternal nutrition during gestation, made sure that prenatal vitamins and, when needed, other medications (for example, the $50/pill anti-nausea medication ondansetron) are affordably available to all pregnant women, increased spending on sex ed so that fewer children are conceived unwanted (a very risky situation in the best of cases), and instituted a massive research program to investigate the causes and potential treatments of miscarriage and premature birth. Good for Gov. Barbour. What? That’s not what he means by making Missisppi safe for unborn children. Oh, dear. You’d almost think that he doesn’t understand anything about medicine or what threatens fetuses the most.

  19. snakeface says:

    Well, that says it all, doesn’t it? I suppose as long as the little infant crawls its way to freedom and the sweet, sweet air it’s on its own.

  20. nausicaa says:

    Children’s Rights Inc. filed a 2004 federal class action suit on behalf of the state’s 3,500 foster children under the care of the Mississippi Department of Human Services. CRI called the situation “very extreme” noting that “What has been particularly troubling about it is that the extent of the deprivation in the state’s child welfare system has been so well recognized for so long, and yet no actions have ever been taken to remedy them.”

    Wow. Totally destroys the “let them be adopted” pro-life argument.

  21. nausicaa says:

    Also, this is the one area where I give the Catholic Church a bit of grudging respect: They do have a strong tradition of social welfare work for the living, so they’re a least somewhat coherent in their “pro life” philosophy. Even though the more politicized aspects of Catholic social justice work are getting shut down by Pope Ratzinger (ie, the recent moves against liberation theologicans), the church does still believe in helping poor people.

  22. Emily Jane says:

    I linked this article on my blog too – I’d put money on Mississippi also being a state with abstinance only sex ed and little family planning money. I cannot imagine having to bury a child, especially for something preventable . . . just awful.

    Speaking of, I’m very curious about where the Mississippi site in the abstinence only education study is located in relation to the areas profiled in this article. I don’t know Mississippi, and I have to run off to a class…..but if no one else has checked by this afternoon, I’ll look it up.

  23. Penny says:

    there has to be some way to separate the real problems of poverty, reduced prenatal care, lack of medical insurance, and infant mortality, from the judgementalism that always seems to accompany articles like this.

    You said it. I cringed at the ways these women were being put down. I’m white and educated and I needed the prenatal classes and public health nurses to show me things I didn’t know. And did anybody else think dwelling on the cradle cap problem (as if it was some “poor people thing” was weird? My baby’s got a huge case of it.

    I’d like to smack that reporter.

  24. Christina B says:

    To quote Ani Difranco, “take away our playstations and we are a third world nation.”

  25. Torri says:

    Once I got over rage at the hypocracy of it all I couldn’t help but snicker at the name ““memorial to the missing”. As if the fetus(Feti?) was misplaced like a set of car keys and we don’t know where they are…

  26. Kyra says:

    Mississippi governor Haley Barbour…has made his state “the safest place in America for an unborn child.”

    The safest place for an unborn child is inside a woman who wants that child. AND inside a woman who has access to any and all medical care she needs to maintain her own health so that she has, herself, a healthy body that can best see to the needs of a developing infant. And in a place where the child is guaranteed health care of its own once born (one wonders if this governor considers a car speeding out-of-control towards a cliff to be safe because the seat belt is on). The first can best be accomplished by contraception; the second and third are very much NOT Mississippi. And come to think of it, neither is the first.

    Pro-life my ass. But we’ve established that already.

  27. Lizard says:

    All of these crosses symbolize babies MURDERED by abortion. They all have “identities” on them. Like…Nurse, Lawyer, Pastor, Mother.

    I’m assuming that that’s an incomplete list, and that there are other crosses that say Green Party Activist, Wiccan, Biker Dyke, Feminist Blogger, and Planned Parenthood Employee.

    Oh….no?

    This whole story is like something out of Jonathan Swift. The enormity of it would be vastly entertaining if it weren’t so utterly, terribly tragic.

  28. Rhiannon says:

    so… um… are those gold-plated shovels like… $1000 a piece (I’m guessing there’s ten, but I can’t see all of them).

  29. Rachel says:

    I’ve got one word for y’all RACISM.

    All of the women pictured with the article are black (Iread it in the NYT yesterday). Mississippi has the highest % black population of state in the US. As long as the babies (and mothers) who are dying are black. Those white guys in the picture really don’t care.

    We absolutely cannot talk about this article without talking about racism, and that’s why Jill’s comment about white guys is dead on. If white people in Mississippi had the infant mortality rate of black people, they would define this as a crisis.

  30. kidlacan says:

    there’s something deeply perverse in the actual nature of this “memorial” – it’s basically a giant aquarium filled with pennies. 50 million pennies, one for each of the “missing”. does this link in with the whole bizarre argument that those 50 million “missing babies” were needed as cheap labour and cannon fodder? cos “babies = money” is the only symbolism i’m seeing there.

  31. shannon says:

    I agree. A quote:

    Most striking, here and throughout the country, is the large racial disparity. In Mississippi, infant deaths among blacks rose to 17 per thousand births in 2005 from 14.2 per thousand in 2004, while those among whites rose to 6.6 per thousand from 6.1. (The national average in 2003 was 5.7 for whites and 14.0 for blacks.)

    (From the article posted in the OP)

  32. Rhiannon says:

    50 million pennies, one for each of the “missing”. does this link in with the whole bizarre argument that those 50 million “missing babies” were needed as cheap labour and cannon fodder? cos “babies = money” is the only symbolism i’m seeing there.

    … and apparently they are only worth $500,000 all total.

  33. ginmar says:

    Why did they even bother doing the story? They all but pinned it directly on those womens’ breasts like a scarlet letter. The impression I got was that if ‘those people’ would just slim down and shape up and get vitamins from some magical place like the tooth fairy, they’d have healthy babies, but hey, who wants black babies except black women, who really want the largesse of a Mississippi welfare check or whatever? One of the worst things is that implied stereotype of black women as careless creators of children they don’t really want. That lurks beneath all the other stereotypes of the welfare queen and whatever; this cold cruel mother.

    What I don’t get is how somebody could write a piece like this and not take extra care with the class and race issues. What they did with this was exactly the opposite of that.

  34. Donna Darko says:

    Just like Katrina.

  35. ginmar says:

    The ultimate Katrina story was the story of the white miracle babies whose potential lives were saved at the expense of actual living black people. If you didn’t catch it in the alternate media, you saw only the mainstream media version of the story, which talked about those precious little white babies.

  36. Mnemosyne says:

    One of the worst things is that implied stereotype of black women as careless creators of children they don’t really want. That lurks beneath all the other stereotypes of the welfare queen and whatever; this cold cruel mother.

    Yep. It’s right there in all of the talk about how women have more babies just for the welfare check, etc. It’s the assumption that of course a black woman couldn’t possibly care about her child as much a white woman would.

    (Unless you need a black woman to be your children’s nanny, of course, in which case she is far more wonderful and nurturing to your little white children than you can ever be, but that’s a whole other post …)

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  38. zuzu says:

    The ultimate Katrina story was the story of the white miracle babies whose potential lives were saved at the expense of actual living black people. If you didn’t catch it in the alternate media, you saw only the mainstream media version of the story, which talked about those precious little white babies.

    Yeah, I remember that.

    Mississippi, let’s remember, is a beneficiary of the tobacco settlement (actually, they settled separately from the rest of the states, but their attorney general was at the forefront of everything). They get $181 million a year in payments, most of which is to go into a health care trust, the interest of which is supposed to fund various health care initiatives, including Medicaid. So it’s not like they’re relying solely on tax money to fund Medicaid.

    I’ve read, and I believe, that one of the main reasons we don’t have universal health care in this country is that too many people don’t want “those people” to have it. It’s only now, when the middle class is feeling the pinch of the idiotic health care system in the US, is the idea getting traction.

  39. Yvette says:

    While this is certainly an example of the “fetish of the fetus,” equally troubling to me is the other end, the “fetish of choice.” Neither does much to address the needs of most women who are not White or middle class and above, or both. While the former does little to address the continuing needs of living children, women, and men, the latter does little to address the real constraints these living folks face that make “choice” a misnomer at best and a slap in the face at worst.

    The central and most frequent narrative of the pro-choice movement has been and continues to be about abortion, with perhaps “work-family” issues increasing in focus. Where are the narratives about infertility in women of color? Disparities in out of home placements? Lingering distrust in some communities of color of abortion advocates? Racial disparities in prevalence of diseases related to sexuality and reproductive function, as well as more aggressive/invasive treatments of these?

    Mississippi is a very easy state for us to pick on. Much harder is to address how those of us living elsewhere have failed to provide a compelling counter narrative that truly expands notions of life and choice.

  40. Shankar Gupta says:

    So it’s not like they’re relying solely on tax money to fund Medicaid.

    Just a quibble, but to whom exactly do you think the cost of that tobacco settlement is going to be passed on? The full link states:

    Mississippi collects $181 million in tobacco-generated revenue annually in tobacco settlement payments and tobacco taxes.

    Looks a lot to me like a tax.

  41. zuzu says:

    Read the whole link, Shankar.

    Mississippi received funding for and launched a tobacco prevention pilot program, and the tobacco industry agreed to pay the state an initial block payment of $170 million in 1997 and annual payments thereafter.

    A portion is tax, but the vast bulk is settlement money. The tobacco litigation was huge.

  42. Bina says:

    Those golden shovels will be needed by the anti-choicers, yes…but not for breaking ground. I recommend they be used for clearing all the bovine feces that just keep falling from those big, ignorant mouths.

    Maybe the best symbol for these guys and their so-called movement is a rake lying on the lawn, unseen until stepped on.

  43. Shankar Gupta says:

    I did read the whole link–The tobacco settlement is paid by the tobacco companies (and their shareholders), which pass their costs on to their customers. It walks, talks, and acts like a tax.

  44. zuzu says:

    But not one that is borne solely by the taxpayers of Mississippi.

  45. Jasmine says:

    I think we should send this story to every “pro life” organization. I highly doubt this will be front and center on the Operation Rescue or Concerned Women for America website

  46. car says:

    I recommend they be used for clearing all the bovine feces that just keep falling from those big, ignorant mouths.
    Don’t forget that they can also be used to bury all the dead babies. With 11.4 per thousand they could get their money’s worth out of the gold shovels.

  47. qwe says:

    This sort of post is so pointless. If these guys think that an abortion is as bad as a murder (crazy, but not because of anything you mention here), what they’re doing is entirely appropriate; none of your points would change this, so none are relevant.

  48. Janet says:

    “Mississippi now has the highest infant mortality rate in the country”

    What’s the difference? There just as dead if they die after birth as they are if they are aborted before they birth. The only difference I see is they are included in a different statistical database. Personally I think they should encourage abortion in this state.

  49. Zoe says:

    We are currently in the midst of a campaign in Charleston, South Carolina to build a family planning clinic in the African American community to give the women in the community freer access to abortions and other reproductive services. Too many women and young girls in the African American community have unwanted children because of limited access to abortions. Many of the children end up being born into poverty and living essentially miserable existences. If a 15 or 16 year old becomes pregnant they should be counseled that having an abortion would in all likelihood help improve their lives and in so doing will also help society. We should make sure that they do not buy into the guilt agenda that the right wing wants to shove in their faces. These are fetuses not human beings and if they are born what kind of life would they lead? Once they are born it is too late. The have a choice and we should help them make the right choice. We need to get to these poor young women sooner. Many of these young girls end up having multiple pregnancies and it is our opinion that if they want to have multiple abortions they should have just as easy access to have multiple abortions as their white middle class counterparts of better means. It is time to end this racism.

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