How will America care for more pregnant women?
(NewsNation) — An increase in pregnancies from new anti-abortion laws will test America’s already stressed maternity care system.
The United States has the worst maternal mortality rate of developed countries, according to the Commonwealth Fund. In some cases, the states expected to have the strongest anti-abortion laws have some of the sparsest care for pregnant women and newborns, according to a review of federal health data and a database run by the March of Dimes and Deloitte.
Researchers expect that roughly 75,000 women will give birth instead of getting abortions because of Friday’s Supreme Court ruling that overturned federal abortion protections. A 2021 report in Econofact calculated about 125,000 fewer births occurred annually because of the Roe decision.
“Do I think more babies will be born? Yes, they may,” said Charity Bean, a doula who is trained to work with expectant mothers. Bean lives in Southern Illinois, where abortion is legal. But she also works in Missouri, which just outlawed abortion.
“But I worry about the safety of it around the birthing person,” she said.
State officials and federal legislators, including from states who support strict anti-abortion rules, announced plans soon after the Supreme Court’s ruling to increase services in areas including obstetrics, gynecology, birth centers and newborn care.
“Being pro-life also means getting moms the help they need to be successful,” South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem stated on Twitter, announcing a new website that includes connections to the state’s maternal care support and adoption resources, among others.
About one-third of South Dakota has moderate to full access to maternity care, according to the March of Dimes database. Its new law bans abortion with an exception for danger to the mother and charges abortion providers with a felony if they perform abortions.
The Biden administration proposed overhauling the country’s maternal care system. Proposals include urging states to extend Medicaid coverage to women from 60 days after birth to 12 months. This could help 720,000 women, according to the White House.
It would also expand services to pregnancy caregivers like doulas, collect more healthcare data to better understand pregnancy care, and expand funding on everything from additional training to cultural care.
U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida) also released a framework for legislation he said would support expectant families. It includes using Social Security benefits to finance parental leave; expanding the Child Tax Credit for children under 6, and adding funds to the Women, Infants and Children program, known as WIC, which supports poor mothers and young children.
Some problems caring for pregnant mothers and young children can be addressed by the federal government, but state policies can impact care as well.
For example, Texas, which has also banned most abortions, has one of the lowest rankings for maternal mortality. About 70% of the state has low to no maternity care, according to the March of Dimes database.
Texas also takes new parents off Medicaid sooner than most states, and Texas women are also more likely to be uninsured and less likely to seek early prenatal care than the national average, according to The Texas Tribune.
Bean, the doula in Illinois, fears for the safety of those giving birth without maternity care after Roe. A lack of maternity care could lead to illnesses stemming from pregnancy, such as gestational diabetes and preeclampsia — a blood pressure condition — going unnoticed, Bean said.
Aside from physical health concerns, she worries about “their mental state. That’s what is bothering me the most.”
There are specific health concerns for denying women an abortion, according to the Turnaway Study, conducted at the center for Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health based at the University of California San Francisco.
Women who are denied an abortion are more likely to stay with violent partners, have more life-threatening complications at birth, and have lingering conditions like migraines and hypertension.
“You have to be mentally prepared for birth,” Bean said.