Emergency Abortions Preserved in Idaho, Strict Bans Remain in Texas

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As emergency abortions are preserved in Idaho, new research finds that infant deaths have increased in Texas, where strict abortion bans remain. Montinique Monroe/Getty Images
  • This month, the Supreme Court preserved access to the abortion pill nationwide and to emergency abortions in Idaho.
  • Meanwhile, in Texas, where abortion bans are among the strictest in the U.S., a new study found an uptick in infant mortalities following a 2021 ban on abortion.
  • Senate Bill 8 (SB 8) bans abortion if a fetal heartbeat can be detected with no emergency exemptions.
  • Access to quality prenatal care can be lifesaving no matter where you live, but it is particularly crucial in states like Texas.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously voted to preserve access to the abortion pill mifepristone.

On June 27, Supreme Court justices temporarily ruled in favor of pregnant people seeking emergency abortions in Idaho, which could be lifesaving.

Meanwhile, in states like Texas, where abortion bans and restrictions are among the strictest in the nation, infant mortality rates have jumped following the state’s 2021 ban on abortion.

A new report shows that Senate Bill 8 (SB 8), the Texas law that banned abortions after a fetal heartbeat can be detected, may have caused the uptick in fetal deaths.

The law, which went into effect September 21, 2021, provided no exemptions for congenital anomalies and banned abortions as early as five or six weeks, which is before most people know they are pregnant.

The study, published in JAMA Pediatrics on June 24, suggests that pregnant people were forced to keep their pregnancies even when the fetuses had potentially lethal fetal congenital anomalies. The researchers estimated that SB 8 led to 216 extra infant deaths that would not have occurred if the ban hadn’t gone into effect.

Prior research has found that states with abortion restrictions record more infant deaths than states that permit the procedure.

The Supreme Court’s decision to preserve emergency abortions could help reduce the number of infant deaths in Idaho, but in Texas, these preventable mortalities rest in the hands of SB 8.

“Pregnant people deserve comprehensive access to abortion care no matter the circumstances. The only way to ensure people can access the care they need, in emergency situations or any other circumstances, is to repeal all abortion bans and restrictions,” said Destiny Lopez, acting co-CEO of the Guttmacher Institute, in a statement shared with Healthline in response to the Supreme Court’s June 27 ruling.

The new JAMA report is thought to be the first to look specifically at how SB 8 contributed to infant deaths.

Jessie Hill, a law professor at Case Western Reserve University who specializes in reproductive rights, told Healthline she’s not surprised the increase in infant deaths was a consequence of SB 8.

“I think it was an entirely foreseeable result of Texas’s near-total abortion ban,” she said.

Researchers from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health first calculated the number of infant deaths in the U.S. and Texas between 2018 and 2022. There were 102,391 infant deaths in the country, 10,351 of which occurred in Texas.

They then analyzed monthly death certificate data between 2021 and 2022 and found that the number of infant deaths, or deaths in babies under 12 months old, increased by 12.9 percent in Texas — from 1,985 to 2,240.

The increase recorded in the rest of the U.S., for comparison, was just 1.8 percent.

To better understand the impact of SB 8, the research team then zeroed in on the number of infant deaths recorded between March and December 2022, which is the time period in which the first pregnancies happened with SB.8 in effect.

Based on the researchers’ estimates, the law led to 216 excess infant deaths, which is a 12.7% increase in infant deaths.

According to the researchers, abortion bans like SB 8 prevent people from ending pregnancies, including ones with severe fetal abnormalities that are diagnosed later in pregnancy.

Congenital malfunctions are the leading cause of infant mortality in the U.S. — they account for 1 in 5 infant deaths, past data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows.

An increase in infants born with congenital malfunctions, some of which are deadly, would then lead to an increase in infant deaths.

“Despite amazing advances in neonatal intensive care, pediatric surgery, and other advanced treatments, when it comes to congenital anomalies, some conditions are so severe that they cannot be fixed,” Arianna Cassidy, MD, a maternal fetal medicine physician in the UCSF Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology & Reproductive Sciences, told Healthline.

For example, babies with congenital anomalies that are born prematurely may not be big enough to receive the treatments they need to survive, Cassidy said.

And for infants with congenital anomalies that are candidates for surgery, the surgeries themselves come with risks.

“Each surgery has risks, such as developing an infection or having another complication, which could be fatal,” says Cassidy, noting that there are many ways complications from surgery for anomalies could lead to an increase in infant deaths.

It’s also believed that abortion restrictions might lead to pregnant people being exposed to potential risks, including financial and emotional stress, that might lead to complications.

More studies are needed to better understand why the infant deaths occurred, the researchers stated.

The findings of the JAMA study highlight the severe health consequences — to both the infant and their families — that occur when abortions are prohibited.

Past evidence revealed that infant mortality disproportionately affects Black women and that having an infant die leads to significant trauma and, potentially, criminalization.

Hill believes it’s irrational to make pregnant people carry nonviable pregnancies to term and give birth only to watch the babies die shortly thereafter.

“This report further demonstrates the profound cruelty of abortion bans like Texas’s,” Hill said.

To Cassidy, the findings are chilling, especially when you consider the ripple effect this kind of law can have.

“It’s the suffering and death of infants, but also suffering of women and families, the sadness and loss in entire communities, the moral injury of physicians and other healthcare providers, and the cost of prolonged hospital stays,” she said.

Hill hopes the findings will make people question whether states that ban abortions are genuinely motivated by an interest to preserving life.

“If the state truly wants to protect infants, it has many means to do so, such as increasing access to prenatal care and health care generally,” Hill said.

This month, the Supreme Court ruled in favor to preserve access to the abortion pill mifepristone nationwide, as well as access to abortion in emergency situations in Idaho.

In Texas, however, the strictest abortion bans in the nation remain upheld. A new report found that SB 8, the Texas law that banned abortions after a fetal heartbeat can be detected, may have caused an uptick in infant deaths.

The ban likely prevented people from ending pregnancies, including ones with severe, life-threatening fetal abnormalities that typically get diagnosed later in pregnancy.



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