The U.S. has an inexcusably poor maternal mortality rate, the number of pregnant people who die due to complications surrounding pregnancy and childbirth. There are steps toward solutions to this startling issue, but one critical component is too often overlooked: expanding access to abortion.
Pregnancy-related deaths in the United States have increased from 7.2 deaths per 100,000 live births in 1987 to 16.9 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2016. Even more disturbing is that 60% of U.S. pregnancy-related deaths are preventable, but lack of access to care and racial disparities are only worsening, meaning the numbers are continuing to climb.
In Missouri, maternal mortality is disproportionately high compared to other states; our state currently ranks 44th in the nation. Black women die at a rate 3-4x more than white women, and low-income individuals in rural areas suffer similar disparities. These groups have increased rates of death due to a jump in chronic diseases over the past ten years, lack of healthcare access, and racism within the health care system.
Addressing this issue will require a multi-faceted approach: expanding Medicaid, dismantling systems of racial oppression, and making healthcare more accessible through policy and structural change are all steps that must be tackled to make a difference. But there is another part of the solution that is proven to contribute to better maternal health outcomes: expanding access to abortion.
Around the US, abortion access is restricted by anti-choice politicians whose legislative agendas are informed by ideology rather than science. Missouri is no exception—our legislature has added dozens of restrictions on abortion over the last three decades, culminating in a sweeping abortion ban in 2019.
Studies have found that states with greater numbers of abortion restrictions also have worse outcomes for women and children’s health. People who are forced to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term are more likely to forgo prenatal care, which results in more pregnancy-related health issues. Delays, costs, and complications due to facing hurdles when accessing abortion also contribute to worse maternal health outcomes.
Anti-choice lawmakers often do not take into account the policies that would contribute to an increase in better health outcomes for families; the reality is that abortion can secure better outcomes for maternal and infant health. Because when a person has the ability to choose where, when, and with whom to have a child, the health outcomes for everybody improve.