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Texas abortion restrictions linked to increased infant deaths, new study finds

A study found that more infant deaths occurred after Texas passed a six-week abortion ban in 2021.
Patricia Lim
KUT News
A study found that more infant deaths occurred after Texas passed a six-week abortion ban in 2021.

Texas saw a significant increase in infant deaths — especially those caused by congenital conditions — in the year following the passage of Senate Bill 8, the state law banning abortions after six weeks of pregnancy. Researchers from Johns Hopkins University published the findings in JAMA Pediatrics this week.

The study’s authors analyzed provisional data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on infant deaths in Texas that occurred between March and December 2022. Pregnancies associated with births in this time period would have been subject to SB8, which became effective in Sept. 2021. Researchers also compared Texas’ statistics to data from 28 other U.S. states.

The results show Texas saw a nearly 13% increase in infant mortality in 2022 from 2021, compared to a less than 2% increase across other states. Overall, Texas saw 216 more infant deaths than would have been expected had SB8 not been in place, based on statistical modeling.

“Our results suggest that restrictive abortion policies that limit pregnant people's abilities to terminate pregnancies — particularly those diagnosed with fetal abnormalities — may lead to increases in infant mortality,” said Suzanne Bell, one of the study’s lead authors and an assistant professor at JHU’s Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Texas abortion law does not make an exception for cases of lethal fetal diagnoses, meaning pregnant women must carry their pregnancy to term even if their child is not expected to survive after birth. Bell’s team found that the number of infant deaths caused by congenital anomalies increased by nearly 23% in Texas between 2021 and 2022, while the rest of the U.S. saw a 3% decrease.

Bell said this data serves as a test case for other states with abortion restrictions, as SB8 was passed prior to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2022 Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization ruling, which prompted abortion restrictions in a number of other states. Texas' trigger law also went into effect post-Dobbs, making abortion illegal from fertilization. Last year, Bell’s team also used early CDC data to determine that SB8’s passage had resulted in nearly 9,800 more live births occurring in Texas in 2022.

“Texas is kind of a harbinger of what we might expect in other states,” Bell said. “[We] can start to examine the impacts of abortion bans of this nature in Texas first, in advance of data becoming available for states that similarly banned abortion post-Dobbs.”

Upcoming research on Bell’s radar involves following infant health outcomes post-Dobbs.

“For each of these excess infant deaths, there may be far more infants who were born with serious complications, but who survived with long term care implications,” Bell said.

Copyright 2024 KUT 90.5

Olivia Aldridge