Legal right to health choices too often compromised for poor: expert comes to Byron Bay

Published 6 November 2017
Michele Goodwin Professor Michele Bratcher Goodwin

Despite enormous resources, the United States now experiences the highest rates of maternal mortality in the developed world. While a decrease in maternal deaths occurred in virtually every other country in the world over the past 15 years, the rates of maternal mortality dramatically increased in the US.

Australia has clear lessons to learn to avoid mistakes made and maternal deaths as a result of policies in the US, according to a leading US legal expert.

“When women’s reproductive health and rights are denied – such as access to contraception and family planning – that places significant constraints on maternal health generally; more women experience pregnancies that they do not want, can ill-afford, and where health resources may not be available or accessible,” says Michele Goodwin, Chancellor’s Professor at the University of California-Irvine.

Professor Goodwin will deliver the inaugural Greta Bird Lecture 'Pregnancy, Poverty and the State' at a free event on Tuesday 14 November, 6pm at Byron Theatre. The talk will be followed by a conversation with ABC Radio National broadcaster Paul Barclay. The event is hosted by Southern Cross University in partnership with Byron Writers Festival.

Goodwin draws a link between the denial of reproductive health care such as contraception, family planning, and abortion to the harms pregnant women face.  She says, “let’s face it, when clinics serving poor women’s reproductive healthcare are forced to close, where will women go when they need prenatal care?”

Analysis of American health care funding indicates that contraception and abortion, which are constitutionally guaranteed, may be severely curtailed by the capacity of women to afford care.

While abortion is legal in the US, the decision of the State Government in places like Texas not to fund abortions means that people on low incomes cannot not afford to pay for one, if they wanted to. While statistics show that 54% of pregnancies are unintended in Texas, the State’s refusal to fund abortions may be a factor in causing Texas to have the highest rate of maternal mortality in the developed world, Professor Goodwin said.

For example, in parts of Mississippi, the maternal mortality rate is worse than in Kenya and overall the rate of maternal deaths in the US is higher than in Bosnia.

“No woman should risk death by choosing to carry a pregnancy to term. Equally, no woman should be denied her constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy simply because she lacks the means to fund it,” said Goodwin.  “The state pays much more in forcing a woman to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term than supporting her decision to end one.” 

“This is a lesson for policy makers not only for the US, but around the world – demonstrating the importance of enshrining rights that are not only legislated, but also supported by appropriate government funding. People should not lose fundamental rights on the basis of their poverty.”

Professor Goodwin has developed an international reputation as an expert on legal regulation of the human body, and has come to Australia to deliver the inaugural Southern Cross University School of Law and Justice 2017 Greta Bird Lecture.

In addition to her role as Chancellor’s Professor of Law at UC Irvine, Professor Goodwin founded the Institute for Global Child Advocacy and has played a leading role in forcing a re-examination of US policy on reproductive rights. She is also the Director of the Centre for Biotechnology and Global Health Policy.

Event details

The 2017 Greta Bird Lecture 'Pregnancy, Poverty & the State' delivered by Professor Michele Bratcher Goodwin

Followed by a conversation with Paul Barclay from ABC RN Big Ideas

Tuesday 14 November, 6pm at Byron Theatre

Presented by Southern Cross University’s School of Law & Justice in partnership with Byron Writers Festival

Free event, bookings essential or 02 6685 5115

Media contact: Sharlene King, media officer, Southern Cross University 02 6620 3508 or 0429 661 349.