Texas abortion ban linked to 13% increase in baby deaths

The Texas law that prohibited abortions after the first weeks of pregnancy is linked to a notable increase in deaths of babies and newborns, according to a study published this Monday in the scientific journal JAMA Pediatrics.

The Texas Congress, with a Republican majority, passed SB8 in September 2021 to prohibit abortions as soon as a fetal heartbeat is detected, which can be as early as five weeks of gestation. In this way, abortion was prohibited in the state, which used to allow it up to 22 weeks of pregnancy.

The law did not include exemptions for congenital anomalies, including those that cause the death of the newborn shortly after birth.

The new study compared infant mortality rates in Texas from 2018 to 2022 with those in 28 other states. Child deaths in Texas increased nearly 13% the year after the law was passed, going from 1,985 in 2021 to 2,240 in 2022. In that period, child deaths increased about 2% nationwide.

Babies born with birth defects also increased in Texas by almost 23%, and decreased by about 3% nationally.

“This points to a causal effect of the policy; We didn’t see an increase in child deaths in other states,” said Alison Gemmill, a professor of Population, Family and Reproductive Health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, who led the research.

Although some congenital anomalies can be corrected after birth, such as cleft palate and some heart defects, others are considered “incompatible with life.”

“The specific increase in deaths attributable to birth defects establishes an irrefutable link between the change in the law and the dire outcomes being seen for babies and families,” said Nan Strauss, Maternal Health Policy Analyst at the National Health Organization. Partnership for Women & Families, which was not involved in the research.

“Women and families have to suffer unbearably during the last part of pregnancy, knowing that their baby is likely to die in the first weeks of life,” he added.

Gemmill said that situation is important for other states because Texas passed the law about a year before the Supreme Court decision that struck down federal protections for abortion, leading to its outright ban in 14 states, according to the Guttmacher Institute. , which researches and supports sexual and reproductive rights.

“This could foreshadow what is happening in other states,” Gemmill said: “Texas is basically a year ahead.”

A report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) already revealed that infant and neonatal mortality rates in the United States increased in 2022 for the first time since 2001.

“This shows what was probably expected before the (Supreme Court) decision, that there would be unintended consequences to banning abortions in the early stages of pregnancy,” said Dr. Mary Rosser, director of Comprehensive Women’s Health at Columbia University Irving Medical Center, which was not involved in the study.

Rosser added that these bans disproportionately affect marginalized populations, including low-income families and people of color, and that more research is needed to understand these effects.

The new study’s researchers also highlighted the ripple effect that the death of a newborn or infant can have on a family, including trauma and medical bills.

“There are people behind these numbers,” says Erika Werner, professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Tufts Medical Center, who was not involved in the research. “For every one of these pregnancies, there is one person who had to stay pregnant for 20 more weeks, carrying a pregnancy that she knew was unlikely to result in a live newborn,” she said.