Monday, January 23, 2023
A new study analyzing The Impact of Legal Abortion on Maternal Mortality was posted to SSRN by scholars Sherajum Farin, Lauren Hoehn-Velasco, and Michael Pesko. The conclusion describes the results of their study:
In this study, we consider whether the 1960s and 1970s legalization of abortion in the United States led to improvements in maternal health. Our findings suggest that legal abortion reduced non-white abortion-related mortality by 30-60% and non-white maternal mortality by 30-40%. In the first year after the passage of legal abortion, this percentage decline translates into 41 non-white maternal deaths averted in early-legal states and 113 non-white maternal deaths averted nationally. To ground the magnitude of the deaths averted in present-day maternal deaths, a total of 299 non-white women died from maternal causes of death in 2019, despite a broader classification of maternal deaths today. * * * [T]he estimated decline in maternal mortality represents the "tip of the iceberg" in terms of the health effects of legal abortion * * *.
In an era where Roe v. Wade no longer determines abortion laws in the United States, we conclude with two facts worth considering for policy today. First, during the period of our study, legal abortion acts primarily through lower abortion-related deaths, rather than a change in pregnancy-related risk factors. The importance of abortion-related maternal mortality indicates that eliminating unsafe and illegal abortion was likely the main driver of mortality declines discovered in this study. Second, legal abortion appears most important for non-white women, and also has the largest impact in counties with lower levels of income, educational attainment, and healthcare resources. Put together, the impact of legal abortion shows marked heterogeneous impacts by race and socioeconomic status, where legal abortion appears most important for less advantaged groups.
Still, based on these observed facts, the maternal mortality impacts of a post-Roe v. Wade legal landscape are unclear. A number of factors are different today than in the 1970s. Most notably, the availability of medical abortion, which can be prescribed through telemedicine appointments, sent through the mail, and safely administered at home * * * Instead, we conclude by emphasizing the importance of legal abortion for non-white maternal health during the period of initial legalization. Today, in the U.S., non-Hispanic black women already suffer three times the maternal mortality of white women * * * , and if there is a health impact of legal abortion restrictions, it will likely be for this group.