Study: More Infants Die in States that Restrict Abortion

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Originally published by Truthout. Subscribe to their newsletter here.

States with abortion restrictions suffer a 16 percent increase in infant mortality rate, according to a new study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

“What’s also notable is that the data is pre-Dobbs—it came from 2014–2018. That means these numbers are likely to get much, much worse,” abortion advocate Jessica Valenti said.

The United States has the highest infant and maternal mortality rates out of any other high-income country and, in 2021, the infant mortality rate in the U.S. was 5.4 deaths per 1,000 live births. This research supports previous studies that have found that abortion restrictions are linked to increased maternal and infant death rates which disproportionately affect Black communities.

Previous research has cited inadequate prenatal care, high rate of cesarean section, and poverty, which contributes to chronic illnesses like obesity, diabetes and heart disease, as causes of the high risk of infant and maternal mortality in the country. However, the recently published study “Abortion Restrictiveness and Infant Mortality: An Ecologic Study, 2014-2018,” found that state-level abortion restrictions made even more of an impact on infant mortality rates than socioeconomic factors, like poverty.

“These numbers are likely to get much, much worse.”

“Researchers looked at how many people in the counties they studied lived below the federal poverty line, median income, percent of those unemployed and more — and still, abortion restrictions impacted the infant death rate more,” Valenti said. “That’s really fucking significant!”

The study, which analyzed infant mortality rates from 2014 to 2018, found that state abortion restrictions exacerbate the inability of people to get adequate prenatal care and impact people’s ability to get contraception, reproductive health care, and their ability to space pregnancies.

Black women face the brunt of this maternal and infant mortality crisis — this study found that the mortality rate for Black infants was more than twice that of white infants. This aligns with previous research that found that Black women are two to three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications than white women and that the infant mortality rate for Black infants is 2.4 times the infant mortality rate of white infants.

“Women of color face more structural barriers to care to begin with, and those inequities are exacerbated when these policies further diminish their power and bodily autonomy,” Wizdom Powell, PhD, the chief social impact and diversity officer at Headspace Health, told the Monitor of Psychology. “You end up having a domino effect of negative impact on women’s overall health and well-being.”

Abortion restrictions have a significant impact on Black women. In 2019, Black women accounted for 38.4 percent of abortion patients, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but many Black women currently live in states that banned or restricted abortion after Roe v. Wade was overturned. A study published by Duke University Press in 2021 found that if more Black women were forced to carry pregnancies to term, there would be a disproportionate increase in deaths of Black women in childbirth.

“Black women stand to be disproportionately impacted by the court’s egregious assault on basic human rights.”

“There is no denying the fact that this is a direct attack on all women, and Black women stand to be disproportionately impacted by the court’s egregious assault on basic human rights,” Janette McCarthy Wallace, general counsel for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), said.

States that have restricted or banned abortion after Roe v. Wade was overturned are currently facing an Ob-Gyn exodus that has exacerbated maternal and infant mortality rates. At least two hospitals in Idaho have completely terminated their labor and delivery services, with one citing the state’s “legal and political climate.

These “Ob-Gyn deserts” will disproportionately affect Black women and low-income people who cannot leave the states to access abortion care. As abortion access becomes more limited across the country, Black maternal mortality rates are likely to increase by 30 percent or more and Black poverty rates are expected to increase by up to 20 percent, according to Linda Goler Blount, president and CEO of the Black Women’s Health Imperative.

“Lives will be lost, just from the death in and around pregnancy, but also those deaths of despair when you get another generation of people into poverty,” Goler Blount told CNN.

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