Critics fear abortion bans could jeopardize health of pregnant women

Michael Ollove, Stateline.org on

Published in Political News

Domeyer-Klenske cited the hypothetical example of a woman whose water broke during the first trimester in her pregnancy. The fetus would likely be unviable, but the woman could develop a life-threatening infection unless a doctor performed an abortion quickly, Domeyer-Klenske said.

But many doctors, fearful of criminal prosecution, might hesitate to act. “Am I going to have to wait until you are in the ICU and septic before I invoke the life is at risk exception?” she asked.

Kentucky state Rep. Nancy Tate, a Republican who authored a recently approved law that bans abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, pointed out that in 2020 there was only one confirmed case of an abortion being performed after 20 weeks in Kentucky to spare the life of the patient, out of 4,104 total procedures performed, according to the state’s Department of Public Health.

“Typically, women do not visit abortion clinics when their lives are in danger — we see doctors in hospitals who view saving the lives of both patients as critical,” Tate wrote in an email to Stateline.

The law, which has been temporarily stayed by a federal judge, contains language permitting the abortion if it “was necessary to prevent the death of the pregnant woman or to avoid a serious risk of the substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function of the pregnant woman.”

Dr. Donna Harrison, an OB-GYN and CEO of the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists, said doctors shouldn't have to perform an abortion to save a patient's life. "The problem isn’t that we have too few abortions, it is that abortion is not necessary for good OB-GYN care. If it was, all OB-GYNs would do it.”


The United States has the highest maternal mortality rate among comparable nations. In 2020, the U.S. ranked last among developed countries analyzed by the Commonwealth Fund, a private foundation that promotes improvements in health care and health equity. According to the Commonwealth analysis, the U.S. recorded 23.8 maternal deaths per every 100,000 births (the rate was 55.3 for the nation’s Black women). Second among the developed countries examined was France with 7.6 deaths per 100,000.

Many reproductive health care providers worry that tighter abortion laws will cause the U.S. to fall further behind.

“There’s no question there is a real concern that mortality and morbidity will be affected as we see further restrictions and bans in half the states,” said Andrea Miller, president of the National Institute for Reproductive Health, an advocacy group.

Dorianne Mason, director of health equity at the National Women’s Law Center, said the effects are likely to be most dire for women of color.


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