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Pregnancy-related deaths more likely in states with abortion bans: research

Women who live in states that banned abortion are up to three times more likely to die during pregnancy, childbirth or soon after giving birth.
Pregnant woman.

Story at a glance

  • The new report details stark racial disparities in maternal mortality rates.

  • Data also showed babies born in states that banned abortion are 30 percent more likely to die in the first month of life.

  • In contrast, trends in maternal and infant health continue to improve in states with supportive reproductive health care. 

Mothers who live in states that banned abortion after the overturning of Roe v Wade are up to three times more likely to die during pregnancy, childbirth or shortly thereafter, according to a new report from the Gender Equity Policy Institute (GEPI). The research was first reported by Axios

Prior to the case’s overturn, the United States had the worst maternal mortality rate among developed countries, while rates were particularly high among women of color. Data from 2018 show maternal deaths were more than two times higher among Black mothers than their white counterparts.

However, the new GEPI report found maternal mortality in the United States nearly doubled from 2018 to 2021, with Black women almost three times as likely to die in pregnancy, childbirth or right after giving birth compared with white women. 

Native American women are also more likely to die during pregnancy and childbirth than those in other racial and ethnic groups. In 2021, the maternal mortality rate for these individuals was 4.5 times that of white mothers and 1.7 times that of Black mothers.

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In the GEPI report, researchers classified states as supportive, restrictive or banned, based on their level of support for reproductive health care. Maternal and infant health outcomes from 2015 to 2021 were compared using data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Census American Community Survey, along with other sources. 

Post Roe, 6 in 10 women now live in states that ban abortion or curtail reproductive freedom, while 7 in 10 Black women live in states that ban or restrict abortion care, the report shows. In addition, babies born in states where abortion is banned are 30 percent more likely to die in their first month of life, the report found. 

But “for those who live in one of the 22 states which support reproductive freedom, the trends are largely positive,” the report authors wrote. “The health and well-being of women and babies in these states outpaces that of those living in states which ban or restrict abortion care. This is true across nearly all indicators.”

Within six months of the overturning of Roe v. Wade, 15 states banned abortion, while more are expected to restrict access in upcoming legislative sessions

For nearly every measure, people living in banned or restrictive states have worse outcomes than their counterparts in supportive states, data showed. These states are also less likely to implement policies like paid parental leave, which can improve outcomes for babies and new parents. 

“There are two Americas for people in their reproductive years and their children,” authors wrote. And as abortion bans continue to take effect “the divergence between states is highly likely to widen, with historically marginalized people most likely to suffer harm.” 

Researchers also assessed the impact of restrictive policies on teen pregnancy rates. For the quarter of teens who live in states that banned abortion, birth rates were nearly twice as high compared with more supportive states. 

Among white teens, birth rates were 151 percent higher in banned states compared with supportive states. 

“Still, Black, Latina, and Native American women in banned states have the highest teen birth rates, demonstrating that the denial of reproductive freedom falls most heavily on women of color,” authors said.