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Infant Mortality Rose 13 Percent in Texas After Abortion Ban, Study Finds

Deaths of babies under 28 days old increased by over 10 percent between 2021 and 2022.

Demonstrators supporting abortion rights march down a street on June 24, 2022, in Austin, Texas.

Deaths of infants in Texas rose significantly over expected rates after the state’s near-total abortion ban went into effect in 2021, causing hundreds of excess deaths, a new study published on the two-year anniversary of the Dobbs v. Jackson decision finds.

Published Monday in JAMA Pediatrics, the study found that infant mortality rose by 13 percent between 2021 and 2022, while the rest of the United States saw a 1.8 percent increase in the same period of time overall. Year-over-year, 255 more infants, defined as babies under one year old, died in 2022 than in 2021.

Neonatal deaths, or death of those under 28 days old, which had been decreasing year over year prior to the ban, increased by over 10 percent, the study found.

The majority of excess deaths over the previous year were caused by congenital anomalies, the study found, while deaths due to other reasons like complications during the pregnancy also increased year over year; the data showed that babies born with congenital anomalies increased in Texas by nearly 23 percent but decreased across the U.S. by 3 percent.

For their analysis, researchers looked at a period between March and December of 2022, which was when the first group of babies affected by the implementation of the ban on September 1, 2021, would have been born. The study found that after the ban went into effect, there were 145 excess neonatal deaths and 216 excess infant deaths overall compared to the calculated expected death count.

“This is pointing to a causal effect of the policy; we didn’t see this increase in infant deaths in other states,” Johns Hopkins University assistant professor and study lead author Alison Gemmill told NBC. Gemmill warned that their findings in Texas may soon come to other states. “Texas is basically a year ahead.”

This is the first study to draw an empirical link between Texas’s abortion ban and the effect on infant mortality, the authors note.

“Our results suggest that restrictive abortion policies that limit pregnant people’s ability to terminate pregnancies, particularly those with fetal abnormalities diagnosed later in pregnancy, may lead to increases in infant mortality,” said Suzanne Bell, assistant professor at Johns Hopkins and one of the lead authors of the study.

“These findings make clear the potentially devastating consequences abortion bans can have on pregnant people and families who are unable to overcome barriers to this essential reproductive health service,” Bell continued.

Texas has one of the strictest abortion bans in the country, not allowing exceptions for fetuses with congenital anomalies, even if the fetus has little chance of surviving outside of the womb, or exceptions for cases of rape or incest. A study last year found that there were 10,000 more births in Texas between April and December 2022 over the same period in the previous year.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently noted that 2022 saw the first rise in infant mortality nationwide in two decades.

Last July, a group of women filed a lawsuit against the state of Texas after being denied abortions despite danger to their or their fetuses’ health. Their stories — and the stories of others across the country forced to experience the same — are devastating, with the women describing being forced to carry non-viable pregnancies to term just to have to watch their babies die in their arms.

“This research adds to the growing body of literature documenting the direct harms inflicted on our communities by abortion bans,” read an editorial that accompanied the study, written by an unaffiliated group of researchers. “In the coming years, as more people continue to be harmed by abortion bans across the country, we anticipate that more research will illuminate what Texans already know to be true: abortion bans harm everyone.”

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