Infant mortality rate rises in Texas after abortion ban

New data from Texas shows a possible consequence of the abortion ban: an increase in infant mortality.

In 2022, the year after the six-week abortion ban took effect, deaths of infants before their first birthday increased by 13%, according to an analysis published Monday in JAMA Pediatrics.

This increase was due to birth defects or chromosomal abnormalities, it was found. The number of babies dying in such conditions increased by 23 percent during this period, compared to a decrease of 3 percent in the rest of the country.

Fatal fetal abnormalities include Down syndrome, or conditions in which fetuses lack kidneys or parts of the brain. Many are not discovered until after an anatomical ultrasound performed at about 20 weeks of pregnancy, well after the gestational age limit set by Texas’ abortion ban.

The findings “suggest that additional live births occurring in Texas in 2022 disproportionately included pregnancies with increased risk of infant mortality, particularly those involving birth defects,” the study authors wrote.

The study period did not include most babies born after Dobbs, the June 2022 Supreme Court decision that ended the constitutional right to abortion. Seventeen states now have total bans or six-week bans, and most have no exceptions for fatal fetal abnormalities.

It takes a long time for complete data on births and deaths to be published. It is therefore too early to know more about the effect of these bans on infant mortality. But the new study adds to research on previous bans showing a link to increased infant deaths, births with chromosomal abnormalities and maternal health complications.

The new analysis “is a provocative finding that should be taken seriously,” said Charles Stoecker, a health economist at Tulane and author of another study linking abortion restrictions and infant deaths. “This is not entirely convincing on its own, but growing evidence shows that these abortion restrictions have serious negative consequences for infant mortality.”

Women who terminate their pregnancies due to maternal or fetal health complications have become the center of the abortion debate.

In a case that attracted national attention last year, a Texas woman, Kate Cox, had her fetus diagnosed with a fatal chromosomal abnormality, and she traveled out of state to have an abortion after the Supreme Court of Texas prevented her from undergoing the procedure. The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to soon rule on an Idaho case over whether doctors in states with abortion bans can perform emergency abortions on women in dire health conditions.

Opponents of abortion say fetuses, regardless of a lethal diagnosis, “deserve every chance at life,” said Amy O’Donnell, communications director for Texas Alliance for Life.

“It is heartbreaking for any parent to lose a child, and our condolences go out to the families who have experienced such a loss,” she said. “Nevertheless, no illness, disability or disorder justifies abortion.”

In 2022, the year the study focuses on, infant mortality increased 2% nationally, after declining since 1995. Researchers aren’t sure why, but they say the pandemic may have played a role. a role – due to infection, stress or reduced visits to the doctor. . Additionally, maternity care in the United States has declined in some areas, particularly for complicated pregnancies.

But in Texas, the number of infant deaths increased much more: 2,240 infants died, 255 more than in 2021, a 13% increase.

In the United States, approximately one-fifth of infant deaths are due to birth defects. In Texas, in 2022, a quarter were, the researchers found using federal death certificate data.

Data shows that most women with a fatal diagnosis choose to terminate their pregnancies.

“As a physician, these moments are both haunting and heartbreaking,” said Dr. Maria Isabel Rodriguez, an obstetrician and gynecologist at Oregon Health & Science University who studies reproductive health policy. “In a post-Roe America, options depend on where a person lives and their resources.”

The authors of the new study speculated that other factors may have contributed to the increase in infant deaths in Texas, such as financial or emotional stress among women with unintended pregnancies.

Infant deaths due to maternal pregnancy complications increased 18 percent in Texas, compared to 8 percent in the rest of the United States. The study does not provide details on these complications, but in general, maternal health problems are one of the leading causes of fetal or infant mortality. Although state bans on abortion have exceptions for the mother’s life, they do not necessarily have health exceptions, an issue currently before the Supreme Court.

The data did not include women’s income or race. Overall, black babies have a higher infant mortality rate than among other large groups.

As more data becomes available, the ramifications of abortion bans will become clearer, said Suzanne Bell, study author and assistant professor at Johns Hopkins: “We’re starting to see more evidence of the downstream effects of these policies.”

Josh Katz contributed reporting.

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