Infant mortality rate rose following Texas abortion ban, study shows

In the wake of Texas’ abortion ban, the state’s infant death rate increased and more died of birth defects, a study published Monday shows.

The analysis out of Johns Hopkins University is the latest research to find higher infant mortality rates in states with abortion restrictions.

The researchers looked at how many infants died before their first birthday after Texas adopted its abortion ban in September 2021. They compared infant deaths in Texas to those in 28 states — some also with restrictions. The researchers calculated that there were 216 more deaths in Texas than expected between March and December the next year.

In Texas, the 2022 mortality rate for infants went up 8% to 5.75 per 1,000 births, compared to a 2% increase in the rest of the U.S., according to the study in the journal JAMA Pediatrics.

Among causes of deaths, birth defects showed a 23% increase, compared to a decrease of about 3% in the rest of the U.S. The Texas law blocks abortions after the detection of cardiac activity, usually five or six weeks into pregnancy, well before tests are done to detect fetal abnormalities.

“I think these findings make clear the potentially devastating consequences that abortion bans can have,” said co-author Suzanne Bell, a fertility researcher.

Doctors have argued that the law is too restrictive toward women who face pregnancy complications, though the state’s Supreme Court last month rejected a case that sought to weaken it.

Infant deaths are relatively rare, Bell said, so the team was a bit surprised by the findings. Because of the small numbers, the researchers could not parse out the rates for different populations, for example, to see if rates were rising more for certain races or socioeconomic groups.

But the results did not come as a surprise to Tiffany Green, a University of Wisconsin-Madison economist and population health scientist who studies the consequences of racial inequities on reproductive health. She said the results were in line with earlier research on racial disparities in infant mortality rates due to state differences in Medicaid funding for abortions. Many of the people getting abortions are vulnerable to pregnancy complications, said Green, who was not part of the research.

Stephen Chasen, a maternal-fetal medicine specialist with Weill Cornell Medicine, said abortion restrictions have other consequences. Chasen, who had no role in the research, said people who carry out pregnancies with fetal anomalies need extra support, education and specialized medical care for the mother and newborn — all of which require resources.

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