Texas abortion restrictions linked to a rise in infant deaths: Study

June 24, 2024

A rise in infant deaths in Texas is linked to the state’s abortion ban passed in 2021, according to a study published in JAMA Pediatrics on Monday.

Analysts out of John Hopkins University and Michigan State University investigated how many infants died before their first birthday after Texas passed a bill in September 2021 that effectively banned abortions about 5 to 6 weeks into pregnancy.

Between 2021 and 2022, infant deaths in Texas rose from 1,985 to 2,240, a 12.9 percent increase, the analysis found. This is significantly higher than the 1.8 percent increase experienced across the rest of the U.S. during the same period.

The Texas heartbeat law was the most stringent state abortion law in the country at the time, making it illegal for Texas doctors to provide an abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected, generally about six weeks after conception. Prior to the law, Texas permitted abortions up to 22 weeks of pregnancy.

The new law does not make exceptions for rape or incest, nor congenital anomalies or birth defects.

Researchers also found Texas’s rate of infant mortality — the number of deaths per thousand live birth persons, jumped higher than the rest of the U.S., increasing 8.3 percent between 2021 and 2022. The rate for the rest of the U.S. increased by 2.2 percent.

The study also found the number of congenital anomalies increased more for Texas, 22.9 percent, but not for the rest of the U.S., which saw a 3.1 percent decrease from 2021 to 2022.

“Our findings suggest increases in infant death, particularly due to congenital anomalies, among infants who would have been in early gestation when SB8 went into effect in Texas, which banned abortions after embryonic cardiac activity,” researchers wrote, noting further studies and analysis is needed.

The study’s release on Monday coincided with the two-year anniversary of the Supreme Court ruling that overturned Roe v. Wade and eliminated the 1973 precedent granting the constitutional right to abortion.

The decision gave states the authority to limit or ban abortion procedures, prompting several Republican-led states to quickly enact legislation restricting residents’ access to the procedure.

Dr. Alison Gemmill, one of the study’s lead authors, said the study is “particularly relevant” given Supreme Court’s ruling.

“These findings suggest that restrictive abortion policies may have important unintended consequences in terms of infant health and the associated trauma to families and medical costs,” Gemmill said in a release.

Researchers used statistical modeling and publicly available death-certificate data from January 2018 to December 2022.

Another research paper published last year linked nearly 10,000 additional live births in Texas to the state’s abortion ban.