Study finds 13 percent rise in infant mortality in Texas following abortion ban

A new study reveals a significant increase in infant deaths in Texas after the state’s near-total abortion ban, highlighting the far-reaching consequences of restrictive abortion policies.

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A new study published in JAMA Pediatrics has found a significant increase in infant mortality rates in Texas following the implementation of the state’s near-total abortion ban in 2021. The study, released on the two-year anniversary of the Dobbs v. Jackson decision, reveals that infant mortality in Texas rose by 13 percent between 2021 and 2022, while the rest of the United States saw a 1.8 percent increase over the same period.

Researchers from Johns Hopkins University analyzed data from March to December 2022, focusing on the first group of babies affected by the abortion ban implemented on September 1, 2021. The study found 145 excess neonatal deaths (babies under 28 days old) and 216 excess infant deaths overall compared to the expected death count based on previous years.

Alison Gemmill, an assistant professor at Johns Hopkins and the study’s lead author, pointed to a direct causal effect of the policy. “This is pointing to a causal effect of the policy; we didn’t see this increase in infant deaths in other states,” Gemmill told NBC. She warned that other states might soon see similar trends, noting that “Texas is basically a year ahead.”

The study highlighted that the majority of excess deaths were due to congenital anomalies, which saw a 23 percent increase in Texas, while such deaths decreased by 3 percent nationwide. The findings suggest that restrictive abortion policies, which limit the ability of pregnant individuals to terminate pregnancies, particularly those with fetal abnormalities diagnosed later in pregnancy, can lead to increases in infant mortality.

Suzanne Bell, another assistant professor at Johns Hopkins and co-author of the study, emphasized the broader implications of the findings. “These findings make clear the potentially devastating consequences that abortion bans can have on pregnant people and families who are unable to overcome barriers to this essential reproductive health service,” Bell said.

Texas’s abortion ban is among the strictest in the country, with no exceptions for fetuses with congenital anomalies, rape, or incest. A study from the previous year noted a 10,000 increase in births in Texas between April and December 2022 compared to the same period in the previous year. This rise in births coincides with the period after the abortion ban went into effect.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently reported the first rise in infant mortality nationwide in two decades, further underscoring the need for comprehensive studies on the impact of abortion restrictions on public health.

The real-life impact of Texas’s abortion ban has been profound. Last July, a group of women filed a lawsuit against the state after being denied abortions despite dangers to their health or their fetuses’ health. These women described harrowing experiences of being forced to carry non-viable pregnancies to term, only to watch their babies die shortly after birth.

“This research adds to the growing body of literature documenting the direct harms inflicted on our communities by abortion bans,” read an editorial accompanying the study, written by an unaffiliated group of researchers. “In the coming years, as more people continue to be harmed by abortion bans across the country, we anticipate that more research will illuminate what Texans already know to be true: abortion bans harm everyone.”

The legal landscape following the Dobbs v. Jackson decision has seen significant changes, with many states implementing restrictive abortion laws. Texas’s experience provides a stark example of the potential consequences of such policies. Reproductive rights advocates argue that these findings should prompt policymakers to reevaluate abortion laws and consider the broader health implications for pregnant individuals and their families.

The study’s findings also highlight the need for improved maternal and infant health care, especially for those carrying pregnancies with known complications. Experts suggest that providing better support, education, and specialized medical care for these individuals could mitigate some of the negative outcomes observed in the study.

Stephen Chasen, a maternal-fetal medicine specialist with Weill Cornell Medicine, commented on the findings, stating, “I think these findings make clear the potentially devastating consequences that abortion bans can have.”

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Alexandra Jacobo is a dedicated progressive writer, activist, and mother with a deep-rooted passion for social justice and political engagement. Her journey into political activism began in 2011 at Zuccotti Park, where she supported the Occupy movement by distributing blankets to occupiers, marking the start of her earnest commitment to progressive causes. Driven by a desire to educate and inspire, Alexandra focuses her writing on a range of progressive issues, aiming to foster positive change both domestically and internationally. Her work is characterized by a strong commitment to community empowerment and a belief in the power of informed public action. As a mother, Alexandra brings a unique and personal perspective to her activism, understanding the importance of shaping a better world for future generations. Her writing not only highlights the challenges we face but also champions the potential for collective action to create a more equitable and sustainable world.

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