June 12, 2013
Bonnie Erbe, To the Contrary Host Bonnie Erbe, To the Contrary Host

By Bonnie Erbe

Kuala Lumpur was the site of an incredibly important global conference last month on maternal and child health care. The confab drew the participation of more than 4,500 attendees including high-level United Nations officials, government leaders, renowned philanthropists and NGO chiefs. There was even a sprinkling of celebrities such as actress Mandy Moore, Chelsea Clinton and Barbara Bush (daughter, not mother of George W. Bush.)

Full disclosure: I was set to cover the event for my PBS program, To the Contrary, but fractured a bone ten days before my departure date and had to cancel. Women Deliver, the NGO that sponsored the conference, works to bring to fruition United Nations Millennial Development Goal #5: to make health and reproductive care available to the 220 million women (and their children) on the planet who have none. As a result, some 287,000 women worldwide, mainly in developing nations, die from pregnancy-related causes each year. Another three million newborns do not survive past the first 28 days of life.

Women Deliver and its allies in this fight are doing the Lord’s work, tending to the medical needs of the people the world has forgotten. Women in developing world nations live lives that are simply unimaginable to even the poorest souls in developed nations such as our own. They live in corrugated metal shacks or mud huts on mud floors in slums ringing those nations’ polluted, overcrowded, most economically downtrodden cities. They ruin their hands working as washerwomen for pennies a day. Their men beat them, desert them and show up occasionally for sex. I know. I have been to such places from South America to North Africa to see the work NGO’s perform for them.

In Morocco, one women’s health clinic I visited was surrounded by pregnant women with two and three children at their hands and on their backs. The clinic was the only facility with a doctor for hundreds of miles. Many women had walked tens of miles to secure for their kids the only free, decent medical attention available to them. 

I certainly am not surprised but I am disappointed that right-wing commentators can do nothing to this day but carp, criticize and condemn the good work Women Deliver and other similar organizations are doing. Here is a typical reaction to the conference, posted on National Review Online:

“’Reproductive health’ has become a euphemism for the ugliest hopes of progressive feminism, chiefly on-demand abortion, and Women Deliver’s global conference certainly delivers on that front: U.S. Health and Human Services secretary Kathleen Sebelius, whose mandate issued last year requires religious employers to pay for their employees’ contraception and sterilization coverage, spoke at the conference…”

I suppose if conservative commentators of this ilk had to stop condemning good work they would go out of business. How would they foment anger and stir up the faithful if they weren’t able to portray angels as devils and create firestorms where there are none?

It certainly is horrible to help a woman who already has six children she cannot feed prevent herself from inadvertently conceiving a seventh. It is even worse when NGO’s go into the slums of Mombasa or Cairo, and help impoverished women postpone starting their families so they may first become educated or learn a skill that will help them provide a financial base for themselves and their children.

We live in a free society. Constructive criticism is always welcome. But carping and complaining is not. Providing much-needed services to the world’s poor is praise-worthy, not blame worthy. The complainers should move on to more fertile ground. They've pounded this issue into a dust bowl.