The U.S. has the worst maternal death rate in the wealthy world, and a higher maternal mortality rate than 60 other countries. We are one of just two countries in which maternal mortality is actually rising. The Black maternal mortality rate is even worse—so bad, in fact, that it is safer for a Black woman to give birth in countries such as Iraq and Palestine than in states like Georgia. Despite this, legislators have taken almost no action to save birthing people or their children. Instead, they’ve enacted increasingly more draconian anti-choice legislation.
In a country with such high maternal mortality, every pregnancy is life-threatening. Perfectly healthy women die giving birth, thanks in large part to a failing for-profit maternity care system. Choice activists have long argued that abortion bans will force women to carry deadly pregnancies to term. And now, a new study proves it. Because pregnancy is significantly more dangerous than abortion, the study finds, nationwide abortion bans would increase the maternal mortality rate by 21%.
The study will soon be published in Demography, but is available now as a preprint. It has not yet been peer-reviewed.
In the study, Amanda Jean Stevenson of the University of Colorado Boulder analyzed current pregnancy and abortion-related death rates to estimate how many new deaths would occur if abortion was no longer accessible. She found that there would be 140 additional deaths the second year after an abortion ban, and that the maternal mortality rate among Black women would increase 33%.
A 2014 American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) paper supports the need for abortion, arguing that it saves lives. According to the paper, an estimated 1.2 million illegal abortions occurred annually before 1973. And these abortions claimed as many as 5,000 lives each year.
During the last round of Texas attempts at banning abortion, researchers found that 8% of Texas women attempted to induce their own abortions. In the wake of a near-total ban, this number will skyrocket.
Deaths are just one way to measure suffering. Tens of thousands more people will experience serious disability. More than 50,000 women a year nearly die during, or are disabled by childbirth. And the social and economic toll on families is hard to estimate. The Turnaway Study, which follows women denied abortions because of state bans, has found that abortion access improves mental and physical health, reduces exposure to domestic violence, improves economic well-being, reduces the risk that children will be abused, and reduces reliance on government assistance.
The data also shows that abortion helps men. One study found that access to abortion for their partners improved men’s long-term economic well-being, employment rates, and college graduation rates.
This data is readily available to anti-choice Republicans. The maternal mortality epidemic is well-known, and has received significant press coverage in recent years. It’s not a mistake that people who claim to care about life have acted to shutter abortion clinics, but not to save women. These bans are about control, and about punishing women for having sex.
The cruelty is the point.