A hurricane hits. The terror and stress caused by the imposing wind and rain affect nearly everybody’s mental health, but perhaps none more so than expectant mothers. Then that stress and the pollutants whipped up by the storm wreak havoc on their bodies, and their pregnancies.

An environmental disaster like a hurricane or a bushfire also prevents women from accessing family planning services, which are needed more than ever when the environment becomes unstable: Jobs are fewer and farther between and money becomes tight, changing how women view the possibility of having children. It also inhibits access to prenatal care in a moment when pregnant women are most at risk.

“Reproductive justice is the right to reproductive health care, and the right to have children or not, the right to the healthiest possible pregnancy and birth, and the right to raise children in a safe and healthy environment,” Linda Goler Blount, president and CEO of the Black Women’s Health Imperative, said at a Wilson Center event in July. “These rights will be challenged by climate change, including increasing temperatures.”

A 2020 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that “there was a statistically significant association between heat, ozone, or fine particulate matter and adverse pregnancy outcomes” across the United States — aka pollution and hotter temperatures are making babies and their mothers ill.

And while pregnant women in the U.S. have suffered significant medical issues from climate change, the effects are that much worse in parts of the world where women are subject to severe poverty, and treated as second-class citizens.

Here are a number of ways in which the climate crisis has compromised women’s reproductive rights around the world:

Drought in Lesotho created a crisis of unwanted pregnancies.

Drought from rising temperatures in Lesotho has made it difficult for people to support large families, with farming — and therefore livelihoods — greatly affected, the U.N. Population Fund reported in March. And with the drought has come a shortage of increasingly needed family planning services. Because climate change can disrupt a family’s finances and even force them to migrate, women may think about their lives and the size of their families in a different way than in more prosperous times.

An increased desire for fewer children has caused women and girls to get unsafe abortions, causing them to be hospitalized from these procedures more than from any other cause, the U.N.’s 2019 Annual Joint Review found.

In the rural Mokhotlong district, a mountainous area in the east of the country, the gap between women bearing children and how many children those women actually want is the biggest in Lesotho, according to the Demographic and Health Surveys Program, a U.S.-funded group. UNFPA reported that 25 percent of women are unable to meet their family planning needs in the district, as compared to 18 percent of the women in the country. Women in Mokhotlong have an average of 4.4 children, more than the average 3.2 nationwide, according to UNFPA, and they face a dearth of contraception to prevent unwanted pregnancies. In contrast, Europe has an unmet need of 9 percent, the World Health Organization reported.

Mokhotlong’s teen pregnancy rate is the nation’s second highest, and a quarter of girls aged 15 to19 are estimated to have already began having children.

In 2018, harvests of crops like maize and sorghum fell by as much as 93 percent from the year before, the U.N. reported. Food insecurity caused by the drought has caused families to struggle financially. Because of their reduced income, women have a higher need and desire for contraception than before.

“In these difficult times, it is not easy to look for a job or to get employed when you have many children, especially here in the village,” Regina Mokoena, a health worker in the district, told UNFPA. “Besides, educating children is also very demanding.”

On top of that, construction workers on a dam project in the district are thought to be responsible for an increase in teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, according to the Center for Investigative Reporting.

“There might be other factors, but construction workers are mainly responsible,” said Realeboha Tlhabi, a nursing officer at the health center in the town of Mapholaneng in Mokhotlong.

“I have witnessed girls of 15 to 17 years marketing their bodies to the construction workers,” Tlhabi told the center. “When transferring patients to the district hospital at night and early mornings, I see young girls in miniskirts on the roadside and we all know why they are there and what they are doing.”

Between the drought and the problems it has created, women and girls “have reportedly left their rural homes to urban areas or South Africa in search of work, mostly as domestic workers trading sex for money or food,” said Jens Laerke, a spokesman from the U.N. humanitarian office.

“It makes particularly women and children, girls in particular, very vulnerable to sexual exploitation and abuse,” he added.

Warmer temperatures led to premature births in California.

A 2017 study in the Environmental Research journal found a link between temperature and adverse birth outcomes — namely, premature delivery.

Researchers analyzed data from medical records from a large health maintenance organization in Northern California collected over 16 years (1995 to 2009). The study observed 14,466 women who had a preterm birth (20 to less than 37 gestational weeks).

It found that for every 10-degree Fahrenheit increase in temperature in California, there was an average increase in preterm delivery of 8.6 percent. That percentage increased for Black women, who had an increase of 15 percent. Researchers concluded that others who were young; Black; Hispanic; had comorbidities like hypertension and diabetes; or drank alcohol and smoked were among the most vulnerable to premature delivery from higher temperatures in California.

“Black women have the highest risk of preterm delivery from heat,” said Rupa Basu, the chief of the Air and Climate Epidemiology Section at the California Environmental Protection Agency, and one of the study’s co-authors.

Australia’s fierce bushfire season threatened pregnant women.

Smoke from Australia’s “black summer” megafires in the 2019-2020 bushfire season was connected to the deaths of more than 445 people, according to a government inquiry, and an estimated 4,000 people were admitted to the hospital due to smoke inhalation. Pregnant women in particular suffered serious effects.

A physician in Victoria, Australia, linked global warming with Australia’s worsening bushfires — and the harm caused to pregnant mothers and their children.

“This is the canary in the coal mine,” Rebecca McGowan told Voice of America. “We are starting to see literally the effects. It is not a sci-fi movie. This is happening in real life. We are starting to see the effects on the unborn, and we are starting to see these babies born now with major effects of climate change and we cannot deny it anymore. It is happening in front of us.”

A study of the effects of a 2014 fire at a Victoria coal mine that burned for more than a month found that pregnant women were more likely to develop gestational diabetes, Fay Johnston, an environmental health professor at the University of Tasmania’s Menzies Institute for Medical Research, told The Washington Post.

Doctors in the worst-affected regions are still measuring the effects of the fires on pregnant women. Alarmingly, they have found that smoke particles blackened placentas to the point where many resembled those in women who are heavy smokers. “Instead of being a healthy shade of pink, distressed organs are left gray and grainy,” VOA reported.

The damage led to premature birth and babies — now known as “bushfire babies” — had breathing problems, doctors found.

Doctors warned that these newborns could endure health problems their whole lives.

Researchers linked Hurricane Harvey in Texas to health problems among pregnant women and their newborns.

A study of women who delivered after Texas’s Hurricane Harvey in 2017 revealed more complications — including high blood pressure, cesarean sections, and infections during labor — than those who had delivered in the years and months before the storm.

“Natural disasters can truly have deleterious effects, especially on vulnerable populations, that may not be evident until weeks or months later,” lead author Dr. Hector Mendez-Figueroa told Reuters Health.

According to the study, which was published in the journal Obstetrics and Gynecology, storm-exposed women also had higher rates of hypertensive disorders of pregnancy, such as preeclampsia, and higher rates of infection during labor.

What’s more, maternal morbidity saw a “significant increase after Harvey only among low socioeconomic women,” said Dr. Hector Mendez-Figueroa.

The authors said these hurricane-related health problems are sometimes related to stress, which produces insulin that leads to metabolic problems. But they also pointed to the dispersal of chemical and environmental pollutants from the storm. Air, water, and land pollution all adversely affect pregnant women.

Fresh water scarcity in coastal Pakistan caused gynecological and other health issues for women.

In Pakistan’s Thatta district — the southern coastal area of Sindh province — people live or die by the water. Because of climate change and the purposeful diversion of Indus River water for power and agricultural use, fresh water has turned increasingly salty and unclean. Also, the coastal areas of the country have had a marked slowdown of farming in recent years as agriculturally related needs like grazing pastures and tree cover have become scarce because of climate change. Extreme heat threatens both lives and livelihoods.

Women are feeling the brunt of the clean water shortage.

“Since women are primarily responsible for the family, the collection and management of water is primarily their responsibility, and they have to face the consequences of water scarcity if it is not easily available,” the Bangkok-based group Mangroves for the Future wrote in a 2019 report.

Mangroves for the Future said that eye and skin diseases commonly affect vulnerable groups (women, children, and the elderly) in Thatta because of unsafe drinking water. There are also significant sanitary problems for women, and gynecological issues.

Women told the group that they have devised some coping mechanisms to deal with the unrelenting sun and heat, such as using a wet cloth on their heads to reduce body temperature. Fishing is the main industry along the coast but increasing heat causes fish to go bad quickly — and there is no electricity for refrigerators. Families are facing a serious loss in income. Additionally, men stay inside longer to cool off. That means fewer hours catching the fish they need for their families’ livelihood.

(Frances Nguyen contributed reporting.)

Source: https://womensmediacenter.com/climate/the-climate-crisis-has-created-a-secondary-crisis-of-reproductive-rights?fbclid=IwAR0-cnXnkHV_bCvfT1iglKQk8_s1jt8JlFdLwaDm-qzHWVJjditgZgU0tIQ