If no abortions were permitted in the 26 states that have already banned or plan to ban abortion, there would have been 64 more maternal deaths in 2020, a new study found. Photo by Khakimullin Aleksandr/Shutterstock
If a national abortion ban follows a Supreme Court ruling overturning the nearly 50-year-old Roe v. Wade decision, U.S. maternal deaths would likely increase by 24%, new research suggests.
That assessment, based on newly released 2020 data, is a 14% increase over an earlier estimate based on 2017 data.
Pregnant Black women would face even more dire impacts, with maternal deaths increasing by 39%, the study found.
If no abortions were permitted in the 26 states that have already banned or plan to ban abortion, there would have been 64 more maternal deaths in 2020.
This study focused only on how maternal death rates are impacted by abortion simply because data shows staying pregnant carries a higher risk of death than having an abortion. It did not include data on how society might try to increase access to abortion for those living in states where it’s illegal or how the criminalization of abortion will impact healthcare-seeking behaviors.
“The prior estimates relied on abortion rates, births and maternal mortality rates as of five years ago. Since then, abortions have increased, births have decreased and maternal mortality rates have worsened,” said lead author Amanda Stevenson, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Colorado Boulder.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 0.41 deaths per 100,000 legal abortions between 2013 and 2018, and the maternal death rate was 23.8 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2020.
In the new study, the researchers estimated that in the first year during which no abortions took place due to bans, the number of maternal deaths would increase from a baseline of 861 to 969. In years that follow, maternal deaths would increase to 1,071, which is 210 each year over baseline, a 24% increase. The increase would be much more for Black women.
“There is a robust network of Black-led research demonstrating how we can better support Black pregnant people who are at 2-3 times greater risk of dying because they’re pregnant compared to other groups,” Stevenson said in a university news release.
How the new state laws banning abortion would affect women depends on each state.
In states with already high maternal death rates, as well as moderate to high abortion rates, maternal deaths would increase by about 29%, according to study estimates. These states would include Florida and Georgia.
Other states, where getting an abortion was already difficult, there may be little to no change. This includes states such as Nebraska, Missouri and West Virginia.
Solutions to stem these deaths include helping people in states where abortion is illegal obtain legal access to reproductive care, investing in the maternal health crisis and addressing “shocking” inequalities in maternal healthcare.
“Our estimates highlight how we can prevent the post-Dobbs [Dobbs vs. Jackson Women’s Health Organization ruling] bans on abortion from increasing the already tragically high numbers of deaths due to pregnancy in the U.S.,” Stevenson said. “Pregnancy shouldn’t kill people — in fact, in other rich countries it very rarely does.”
The new findings were published on a preprint server and have not yet been peer-reviewed.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has