Skepticism

Texas’s Abortion Ban is Killing Babies

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It’s no secret that when a state or a country restricts access to abortion, more women die. They die seeking unsafe illegal abortions, they die at the hands of abusive partners, and they die from pregnancy complications. That’s what the research shows, and that’s what lawmakers KNOW will happen when they restrict abortion access but they do it anyway because they don’t care about women or even see them as complete humans.

For instance, here’s a study from 2021 published in the American Journal of Public Health that looked at the National Center for Health Statistics data for pregnant Americans between the ages of 10 and 44 from 2015-2018. They examined total maternal mortality “defined as a death while pregnant or within 1 year following the end of a pregnancy, from any cause related to or aggravated by the pregnancy or its management. We further divided these deaths by timing to identify maternal mortality (MM; those occurring during pregnancy or within 42 days of being pregnant) and late maternal mortality (LMM; those occurring between 43 days and 1 year following the end of a pregnancy) as additional outcomes of interest.”

They found that “states with a higher number of abortion-restricting policies had a 7% increase in (total maternal mortality). In addition, states with a licensed physician requirement had a 51% higher (total maternal mortality) and a 35% higher (maternal mortality), and restrictions on state Medicaid funding for abortion was associated with a 29% higher (total maternal mortality). These findings contribute to the growing evidence documenting the detrimental impact of a restrictive reproductive rights climate on maternal and infant health.”

That was just in states with abortion restrictions BEFORE the Supreme Court killed Roe v. Wade, so you can imagine how grim things are now that some states have completely outlawed abortion. In fact, you will have to imagine how bad things are in Texas, because as I mentioned back in December of 2022, that state introduced a new “enhanced” method of counting maternal mortality that lowers the number of deaths and makes it unable to be compared to other states, or even to historical data in Texas. They also really take their time even releasing the data, waiting years to do so which means they can’t take immediate action to try to fix bad trends, even if they wanted to. Which, to be clear, they don’t. Texas’s Republican lawmakers are quite happy to allow women to die–particularly the poor Black, indigenous, and Hispanic women who are disproportionately affected by these abortion bans.

So while we don’t have that maternal mortality data, we do have an interesting new study showing that it’s not just more women who are dying in Texas since their abortion ban, but more babies, too.

Infant Deaths After Texas’ 2021 Ban on Abortion in Early Pregnancy was just published in the Journal of the American Medical Association and the results are, sadly, not surprising: since their most restrictive ban in 2021, infant mortality in Texas has skyrocketed 13%. To put that into context, infant mortality in the United States has been steadily falling for the past 20 years, with a 22% decline between 2001 and 2021. But after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, the infant mortality rate actually INCREASED for the first time, by 2%.

So an increase of 13% in Texas is huge and very concerning. That CDC report specifically called out Texas as a problem, along with Georgia, Iowa, and Missouri, all states where abortion is now severely restricted or outright banned. The CDC report also pointed out that the rise in infant mortality was greatest in two categories: maternal mortality and bacterial sepsis.

This new study supports that CDC report and makes it clearer just how bad the problem is, finding that the increase in infant deaths in Texas wasn’t seen in other states where abortion wasn’t restricted, leading the authors to conclude that this was causal.

They also found that the rate of infant deaths attributable to congenital anomalies rose by a shocking 23% in Texas, despite them dropping by 3% in the rest of the US. These are infants with severe birth defects that are unfixable–defects that doctors can detect early in a pregnancy and can be aborted. Even though the pregnancy is likely a WANTED fetus, many people would choose to abort and try again. But now, in Texas, women are forced to continue to carry an nonviable fetus for nine months, putting their own health at risk, only to give birth to an infant and watch as they die painfully and horribly.

Oh, and expensively! Can’t forget that. We don’t give people basic healthcare in this country, so these nonviable pregnancies also end up bankrupting people. Fun.

Texas, of course, isn’t the only state forcing people to suffer and die miserably because of religious zealotry. In Idaho, where abortion is banned except in cases of rape and incest and supposedly maternal mortality, maternal mortality has risen 121.5% from 2019 to 2021, and infant mortality has risen 18%. 30% of pregnant women there have no health insurance, and 20% received no prenatal care in the first trimester. 88% of maternal deaths were found to be preventable with basic care.

This data is critically important, because I suspect a lot of Americans think that banning abortion only affects women like me, who do not want children. In actuality, people like me ARE at risk but honestly? The least amount of risk. If I lived in Texas and found out I was pregnant, I would simply fly to a better state and pay out of pocket for an abortion. Poor people who don’t want kids are in a much worse place, because they’d have to figure out how to get to that other state without losing their job or going into debt, or how to somehow get the medication at home.

But the people most at risk, in my opinion, are people who DO want children. Because while abortion in the early weeks and months of pregnancy is now safe and easy, pregnancy remains a very dangerous condition. You may be able to detect a nonviable fetus early and fly somewhere to get an abortion if you can afford it, but even a well-off woman can experience an emergency and simply not have the time to get somewhere they can access decent medical care. In an emergency, a pregnant person will need to go to a local hospital, and in Texas a doctor will be forced to decide how much risk they want to take on. Is the woman close enough to death to perform an abortion? Should we roll the dice and hope she lives? Personally I wouldn’t want to bet my life on a doctor prioritizing a fetus over me.

I have a friend who is pregnant in Texas and I am terrified for her. I’m terrified for every pregnant person in red states, which is why in November I will be voting against Donald Trump, who absolutely without a doubt will do whatever the Evangelical Christians want. And what they want is to take away our healthcare in EVERY state. Do. Not. Let. Them.

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca is a writer, speaker, YouTube personality, and unrepentant science nerd. In addition to founding and continuing to run Skepchick, she hosts Quiz-o-Tron, a monthly science-themed quiz show and podcast that pits comedians against nerds. There is an asteroid named in her honor. Twitter @rebeccawatson Mastodon mstdn.social/@rebeccawatson Instagram @actuallyrebeccawatson TikTok @actuallyrebeccawatson YouTube @rebeccawatson BlueSky @rebeccawatson.bsky.social

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