States Restricting Abortions Have More Maternal, Infant Deaths

New research found that maternal and infant mortality rates were higher by 62 percent in states where abortion was more restricted, compared to states with more accessible maternal health care systems.

Commonwealth Fund’s new research study, published on December 14, reveals that states with a more constraining abortion system increase maternal and infant mortality rate.

Commonwealth Fund, a private foundation conducting independent research on health care, questions if such bans or strict rules on abortion will continue to result in unfavorable health outcomes.

What did the research reveal?

In June 2022, the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, a landmark ruling which protected the right to abortion on a federal level. With the controversial decision, restrictions on abortion have been linked with a low connection to health care, risking health complications to even death. Certain elements, such as a matter of insurance, financial situations, and being a minority all contributed to the limited access to much-needed maternal and infant healthcare.

In 2019, perinatal deaths were 15 percent higher in states with limited abortion access. They also had greater neonatal death rates during the infant's first 27 days of being born, along with larger postneonatal mortality rates between 28 and 365 days after birth.

"Then, on top of all that, you're adding this variation in abortion services, reproductive health services, by states," said senior vice president for advancing health equity at the Commonwealth Fund Dr. Laurie Zephyrin. "We're just adding onto an already fractured system." Dr. Zephyrin and her co-authors utilized data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), March of Dimes, Guttmacher Institute, and other sources to conduct the research.

“It’s important to keep the issue in the forefront, because then that continues to bring it to awareness for everyday people so that people that are suffering from these inequities are not suffering in the shadows,” continued Zephyrin. “And hopefully, it’ll help drive policy change.”

The research doesn't disclose a direct link, but rather a correlation between states and their abortion rules. In clarification, some states with heavier abortion laws also have heavier limits in healthcare such as Medicaid coverage and fewer healthcare professionals.

Medicaid is a type of American health care coverage given to eligible low-income individuals, children, pregnant women, elders, and people with disabilities. It is funded by the state and federal governments. As of August 2022, 83.5 million American people are enrolled in the program.

The Commonwealth Fund also revealed approximately 39 percent of counties in each American state with the most limited abortion laws were known as maternity care deserts, which is when a county lacks maternity health care services.

Where is the access limited?

States across the United States have various laws when it comes to abortions and maternal health care rules. Currently, 26 American states are considered abortion-restrictive, while the remaining 24 and the District of Columbia are labeled abortion-accessible.

Some states, including Texas, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Alabama, are considered most restrictive by the Guttmacher Institute's map. Other states, including California, Oregon, and Vermont, have more accessible abortion systems and maternal health care.

How can we make care more accessible?

Women in their reproductive age and pregnant women in areas with strict abortion laws have narrow access to health insurance coverage, unfortunate health aftermath, and less connection to the maternity healthcare system.

States can prevent the unfortunate outcome if they choose to. State officials might make an effort to enlist more maternity care professionals, including midwives, doctors, doulas, and nurses, and support the establishment of more birthing facilities. Through a combination of Medicaid and public health funds, more assistance may be given to community-based groups and perinatal health care teams, and financial incentives for providers might promote higher-quality maternal health care.

State governments could improve the health and well-being of mothers and children before, during, and after pregnancy by implementing the Medicaid eligibility expansion for low-income persons and extending Medicaid postpartum coverage to one year from the Affordable Care Act.

Expanding federal funding for maternal and reproductive health care system, family planning, and maternity guidance, could all alleviate the impact of the Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization case. Collaboration is needed to protect women and result in desirable health outcomes for mothers and infants.

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