The number of women who die from pregnancy or childbirth complications has been on the rise in the U.S., which has a much higher maternal mortality rate than other rich nations. Credit: Rogelio V. Solis / AP

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Susan Young is the Bangor Daily News opinion editor.

I give state Rep. Stacey Guerin credit for writing about her miscarriage. Sharing the story of such a loss takes bravery and courage. I know, I’ve done it.

In a recent column published in the BDN, Guerin writes that abortion can have detrimental health consequences for women.

There are risks to having an abortion, although they are small and, generally, do not impact a woman’s health in the long-term.

Pregnancy and childbirth, on the other hand, are increasingly dangerous in the United States. Regardless of your stance on abortion, we should all be able to agree that we need to make pregnancy and childbirth safer in the U.S.

At the same time, we should recognize the freedom of women to decide whether they want to take on these risks. This includes the freedom to make health care decisions, including the decision to end pregnancies, without political interference.

Maternal mortality rates in the U.S. are far higher than in similar wealthy countries. And, while they have been dropping in other countries, they’re rising here. They have more than doubled since 1987. The statistics are even more alarming for Black women.

Women like YoLanda Mention, a Black mother from South Carolina, who died of a stroke days after giving birth to a baby girl in March 2015. She could have been saved with inexpensive IV medication – and better attention to her deteriorating condition, which included alarmingly high blood pressure, USA Today reported.

Her husband, a school bus driver, is now raising three daughters alone.

“The girls, they ask when she’s coming home and I don’t know what to tell them,” Marco Mention told USA Today. “It seems like a nightmare and I just need to wake up.”

In addition to the unacceptable number of maternal deaths, more than 50,000 American women are injured during childbirth each year, USA Today reported. Many of these injuries are life altering.

There are many interrelated reasons for these horrifying numbers. Women are giving birth later in their lives. Roughly half of U.S. pregnancies are unplanned, so expectant mothers have often failed to address chronic health issues. Many women, especially those without health insurance, struggle to get consistent, coordinated care during their pregnancy.

And, shockingly, in cases like Mention’s, many health providers don’t recognize serious pregnancy and childbirth complications. Nearly two-thirds of these deaths are preventable, according to a report from the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In addition, the U.S. has a shortage of pregnancy and childbirth providers, especially midwives, which are more common in other countries. The U.S. also has a patchwork of post-birth care, including home visits. These are provided for free in many other countries.

The U.S. is also sadly unique in not requiring paid parental leave after a child is born or adopted. Nationally, nearly one in four mothers return to work within two weeks of giving birth. This puts their health, and the well-being of their babies, in jeopardy.

State lawmakers, including Guerin, will soon consider legislation to create a paid family and medical leave plan in Maine. Only 15 percent of Mainers currently have access to paid family leave at work, according to the Maine Paid Family Coalition, a group of pro-family leave organizations.

The cost of such a plan, and whether to include small businesses, are likely to be major points of discussion in Augusta. Paid leave after the birth of a child is only part of the puzzle, but it is an important one.

Here’s a simple guiding principle as lawmakers consider this proposal and others that help families: Protecting the health and wellbeing of women, which includes protecting their freedom to make decisions about their own bodies, is essential to protecting the health and wellbeing of children.

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Susan Young

Susan Young is the opinion editor at the Bangor Daily News. She has worked for the BDN for over 25 years as a reporter and editor.