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Infant Deaths Rose by 12 Percent in Texas Amid Abortion Ban

The rise in infant deaths in 2022 reverses a 7-year long trend of a decline in infant mortality.

Protestors demonstrate at the March for Reproductive Rights organized by Women’s March L.A. on April 15, 2023, in Los Angeles, California.

In the first year of abortion being nearly fully banned in Texas, infant mortality rose for the first time in seven years, nearly entirely undoing years of progress on infant mortality in a single year, new data shows.

According to preliminary data obtained from the Texas Department of State Health Services by CNN, infant mortality increased by 11.5 percent in 2022 over the previous year. Overall, about 2,200 infants died, an increase of 227 deaths from 2021. Deaths caused by severe genetic and birth defects rose by 21.6 percent, likely reflecting an increase in people being forced to carry and birth nonviable pregnancies.

This reverses a trend between 2014 and 2021 in which infant mortality decreased each year, with infant deaths falling by nearly 15 percent over that time frame, CNN reports.

Last year was the first full year in which Texas’s near-total abortion ban was in effect after Republican lawmakers passed a law in 2021 banning the procedure and it was upheld in the Supreme Court, defying Roe v. Wade nearly a year before the Court would overturn the landmark decision outright. The state then had a “trigger ban” go into effect when the Dobbs v. Jackson decision was handed down in July 2022.

The preliminary finding of a rise in infant mortality is one sign that experts’ warnings on the worst effects of abortion bans are coming true.

“We all knew the infant mortality rate would go up, because many of these terminations were for pregnancies that don’t turn into healthy normal kids,” Erika Werner, chair of obstetrics and gynecology at Tufts Medical Center, told CNN. “It’s exactly what we all were concerned about.”

In the year since Roe was overturned last July, horrifying stories have emerged about people being forced to carry pregnancies to term that threatened either their life or the viability of the fetus.

In a hearing for a lawsuit challenging Texas’s abortion ban on Wednesday, several plaintiffs testified on their experiences with being denied an abortion despite fetal non-viability; one woman, Samantha Casiano, told the court how she had to give birth to a baby and watched as her baby, born with a fatal defect, took its first and last breaths. Casiano vomited while recounting the story, saying that her body now has that visceral reaction whenever she recalls the pregnancy.

In May, The Washington Post featured a story of a couple whose baby had a fatal condition known as Potter syndrome, but who weren’t able to obtain an abortion due to Florida’s ban on abortions past 15 weeks. Though the state law technically allows exceptions — which are almost never honored in practice in any state with abortion bans — for fatal fetal conditions, doctors wouldn’t provide an abortion because fetal cardiac activity could still be detected.

Deborah Dorbert was forced to give birth to a son, Milo, who never opened his eyes or cried. Milo was out of the womb for 99 minutes before he died. When she returned from the hospital, Dorbert repeatedly cried, “I left my baby at the hospital.”

It is too early for states to have released parental mortality data following the fall of Roe, but experts have also warned that many parents will die due to abortion bans.

Amanda Zurawski, another woman in the Texas lawsuit, described on Wednesday how she almost died due to her pregnancy after her water broke early, causing a miscarriage to be inevitable, but doctors wouldn’t allow the miscarriage to be induced. Zurawski spent days in the hospital after developing an infection due to the complication and going into sepsis, which is life-threatening.

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