Childbirth in a war zone

Can't pregnant women be evacuated from Gaza?

Childbirth is fraught under the best of circumstances. A woman can be laboring in a hospital surrounded by medical professionals and still have something go seriously wrong, necessitating a 2 a.m. emergency C-section (ask me how I know). But what about a woman going through labor in a war zone? Bombs falling, nothing antiseptic or even clean, no anesthesia available for that C-section. It is an impossibly cruel situation. Yet that is the reality right now for tens of thousands of pregnant women and teenage girls in Gaza. Before the war, Gaza already had infant mortality that was seven times that of Israel; now, more than 100 days into the conflict, the statistic is unknowable. The Israeli blockade preventing most supplies from getting into the Palestinian territory has caused a hunger crisis, leaving pregnant women in Gaza malnourished and anemic — more prone to hemorrhaging after childbirth and less able to produce milk. With many hospitals bombed out of commission, Gazan women are giving birth in tents, in the cold, with rain coming in. And at least one of the Israeli hostages abducted by Hamas terrorists on Oct. 7 was reportedly some eight months pregnant. She gave birth where? In a tunnel?

The best solution for these women, of course, is an end to the fighting, and Israel and Hamas are currently discussing a cease-fire. But in the meantime, why can't women who are pregnant or who have young children be evacuated? Egypt's authoritarian president, Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, has said he doesn't want to open the border between his country and Gaza, because if Palestinians are once displaced they might never be able to return. Yet that is a problem for the future. Women and babies are dying right now. And nobody — not Israel, not Hamas, not Egypt, not the U.S. — is doing anything to help them.

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