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States That Restrict Abortion Have Higher Rates of Intimate Partner Homicide

“[T]here’s an epidemic of preventable violence that disproportionately affects vulnerable populations,” one study finds.

According to a new study published in the Journal of the American College of Surgeons (JACS), pregnant women who live in states that restrict abortion are more likely to experience intimate partner homicide. Researchers also found that the risk of intimate partner homicide is higher for young women under the age of 30, Black women, and women with lower education levels.

“This study reveals that in the United States, there’s an epidemic of preventable violence that disproportionately affects vulnerable populations, including peripartum people,” said Grace Keegan, lead author of the study and third-year medical student at the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine.

The research studied the more than 9,000 homicides of women aged 12-50 years old that occurred between 2018 and 2020. Researchers discovered that pregnant or recently pregnant women faced a 14 percent higher risk of homicide by an intimate partner compared to non-pregnant women.

Additionally, states classified by researchers as limiting abortion access experienced a 75 percent increase in peripartum homicide rates. Louisiana and Missouri, both of which restricted abortion access, had the highest peripartum homicide rates per total state population. Although the data analyzed predates the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2022 decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, the risks faced by pregnant women residing in states with restricted access to abortion are likely to have worsened.

“These numbers are staggering. Compared to other high-income countries, the U.S. is a standalone nation in the number of peripartum homicides that we’re seeing,” said co-author Tanya Zakrison, a professor of surgery and director of critical trauma research at University of Chicago Medicine.

The authors observed that while there was a significant increase in homicide rates of pregnant or recently pregnant women in states with restricted abortion access, this trend was not mirrored in homicides of men. This indicates that limited access to reproductive health care could be a contributing factor to heightened risk of intimate partner homicide among women.

“As a society, we need to address the intersectional root causes that have driven our society to this sad reality that we’re in today,” said senior author Justin Cirone, an assistant professor of surgery at Wake Forest School of Medicine in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Researchers noted that easy access to firearms is also to blame for intimate partner homicide of pregnant women. Firearms were the most commonly employed weapon in peripartum homicides, making up 63 percent of such cases, compared to 49 percent in non-pregnant or recently pregnant women.

“Intimate partner homicide is absolutely an epidemic of preventable violence, and I think something else that was shocking is how firearms figure so predominantly in the peripartum homicide group compared to the non-peripartum homicide group,” Zakrison said.

Researchers also highlighted that intimate partner violence is a significant factor contributing to the maternal mortality crisis in the U.S.

“There’s a stark reality that the U.S. health care system lags behind many comparable nations in the prioritization of women’s health,” Keegan said. “Our country’s maternal mortality rates are extremely high, and what’s even more striking is that the greatest contributor to the high mortality rate is homicide.”

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