An abortion ban in Texas is linked to an increase in infant deaths, a new study finds

A six-week abortion ban in Texas was linked to a 13% increase in the number of infants who died in their first year of life, a new study published Monday in JAMA Pediatrics suggests.

The study, published two years since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v Wade and allowed more than a dozen states across the country to ban nearly all abortions, is one of the first insights into how strict abortion bans affect babies’ health.

The study also estimates that the ban is possible caused the number of babies in Texas who died within the first month of life to increase by more than 10%.

Because Texas implemented its six-week abortion ban in September 2021, months before Roe’s death, scientists have been studying what happened in Texas for clues about how post-Roe abortion bans are now affecting the rest of the country. Some of the researchers involved in Monday’s investigation have previously concluded that the The Texas ban also led to 10,000 additional births.

“Texas is the harbinger of what may happen to Dobbs,” said Alison Gemmill, the study’s lead author and assistant professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, referring to the case Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health Organization. that overturned Roe. “One of the things we’re doing now, as you can imagine, is looking at Dobbs and infant mortality as a next step.”

The study found that there has been a 23% increase in infant deaths from birth defects – the types of conditions that are often diagnosed in the womb and lead to abortions in states where the procedure is legal because they could be incompatible with life. But that choice is no longer available to pregnant Texans.

“If an abnormality was discovered before this policy, people would have had the option to at least terminate a pregnancy up to maybe about 20 weeks, or perhaps even 22 weeks of pregnancy,” said Alison Gemmill, the study’s lead author and a researcher . assistant professor at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “Any child death is tragic, but on top of that is the situation of this pregnant woman, where they know they are carrying a fetus that is incompatible with life, when previously they might have had the option to terminate the pregnancy.”

To isolate the impact of the Texas ban and establish a causal link between the law and infant mortality, Gemmill and the other researchers analyzed death certificates in Texas and 28 other states from January 2018 to February 2022. They built a “synthetic” statistical analysis on. Texas model that calculated the number of child deaths that would have occurred if Texas had never enacted the six-week ban, and then compared that model to the number of deaths that actually occurred in the state.

Two hundred and sixteen infant deaths occurred as a result of Texas’ six-week abortion ban, the researchers estimated.

Gemstone mill plans to investigate how Roe’s death may have led to an increase in births among children who did not die but may require continued and substantial medical attention to survive.

After Roe collapsed, allowing Texas to ban nearly all abortions, Texas has also become the epicenter of the debate over doctors’ ability to perform medically necessary abortions. Like every other state with an abortion ban, Texas technically allows emergency abortions — but doctors in Texas and across the country have said abortion bans are worded in a way that makes them useless. Instead of taking action, doctors say they are forced to wait until patients become sick enough to intervene.

Last year, dozens of women who said they were denied medically necessary abortions sued Texas in hopes of clarifying the abortion ban. At least one of the women, who was denied an abortion and unable to leave the state, ultimately gave birth to a child who died within hours of her birth.

In May, the Texas Supreme Court – which is made up entirely of Republicans – rejected their challenge.

After months of delays and calls for action from both proponents and opponents of abortion rights, the Texas Medical Board issued guidance Friday clarifying that “the absence of an immediate risk of death or substantial disability to a patient should not prevent a physician from to do what is necessary.” medically necessary,” such as the chairman of the board said in a statement. However, the guidance does not stand in the way of this Texas prosecutors refuse to file charges against doctors.

The researchers behind Monday’s study did not have access to data breaking down infant deaths by demographic information such as race or ethnicity, so it is not clear whether specific groups were more likely to give birth to babies who died later. However, researchers noted that the infant mortality rate among non-Hispanic black women is three times higher than among non-Hispanic white women. Low-income women are also more likely to lack the resources needed to flee Texas for abortions in other states.

“This research shows that when trying to legislate something as complex as pregnancy,” Gemmill said, “it is critical to design policies that are based on a thorough understanding of the public health implications and robust scientific evidence. ”