Study: Maternal mortality would increase 24 percent under federal abortion ban

Study: Maternal mortality would increase 24 percent under federal abortion ban
United States Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) (Gage Skidmore).

New research published Thursday by experts at the University of Colorado Boulder estimates that a nationwide abortion ban of the kind Republican lawmakers are intent on pursuing would increase maternal mortality in the United States by 24%.

Released just days after the U.S. Supreme Court ended the constitutional right to abortion—triggering total bans in a number of GOP-led states—the analysis uses newly available data from 2020 to show that the "increased exposure to the risks of pregnancy" caused by a federal abortion ban "would cause an increase of 210 maternal deaths per year (24% increase), from 861 to 1071."

The researchers stress that their estimate, which has not been peer-reviewed, is conservative—it only takes into account the higher mortality risk of continuing pregnancy to term.

"We find that increases in some states would be as great as 29%, while in others, because of already extremely low abortion rates and numbers, less than one additional death would be expected," they note. "Banning abortion will likely change maternal mortality in ways beyond exposing more people to the existing risks of maternal death; any increase in maternal mortality due to these changes would be in addition to our estimates."

The U.S. already has the highest maternal mortality rate among rich nations. A recent study by the Commonwealth Fund found that "although most are preventable, maternal deaths have been increasing in the United States since 2000."

"In 2018, there were 17 maternal deaths for every 100,000 live births in the U.S.—a ratio more than double that of most other high-income countries," the study noted. "In contrast, the maternal mortality ratio was three per 100,000 or fewer in the Netherlands, Norway, and New Zealand."

Amanda Jean Stevenson, assistant professor of sociology at the University of Colorado Boulder and the lead author of the new analysis, told the Denver Post on Thursday that "pregnancy shouldn't kill people—in fact, in other rich countries it very rarely does."

"The arithmetic truth our findings reveal is simple: reducing abortions increases maternal deaths," Stevenson and her colleagues write. "The additional maternal deaths we estimate here could be avoided if we help people get wanted abortions, if we make pregnancy and birth safer—particularly for Black people—and, of course, if we do not ban abortion in the first place."

Survey data released both before and in the wake of the Supreme Court's decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization indicates that a majority of U.S. voters would oppose a nationwide abortion ban.

But public sentiment doesn't appear to be deterring far-right groups and their anti-abortion allies in Congress. As the Washington Post reported in May, "Leading anti-abortion groups and their allies in Congress have been meeting behind the scenes to plan a national strategy" in anticipation of the Supreme Court's ruling.

"A group of Republican senators has discussed at multiple meetings the possibility of banning abortion at around six weeks, said Sen. James Lankford (Okla.), who was in attendance and said he would support the legislation," the Post reported. "Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) will introduce the legislation in the Senate, according to an antiabortion advocate with knowledge of the discussions who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal strategy."

Days after the Washington Post published its story, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) signaled that the Republican Party could attempt to enact a federal abortion ban if it retakes Congress in November.

"We know that the so-called 'pro-life' movement has nothing to do about saving lives, it's about control," former Ohio state Sen. Nina Turner tweeted Thursday, citing the new University of Colorado Boulder research.

"There is no time to waste," Turner added. "The Senate must abolish the filibuster to codify Roe."

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