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As the maternal death rate worsens, both sides of abortion debate demand change

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Posted at 2:25 PM, Jan 05, 2023

JACKSON, Ms. — The maternal death rate in America continues to get worse.

There were 20 deaths per 100,000 people in 2019. The numbers rose to 24 per 100,000 in 2020.

For Black women, that statistic more than doubles to 55.3 per 100,000.

The Commonwealth Fund, a nonprofit that funds independent research on health care, puts those numbers into more perspective, saying on a global scale, the United States, in general, has the highest maternal death rate among high-income nations.

The Commonwealth Fund says that in data from 2020, maternal death rates in states that have restricted abortion since the overturning of Roe had a 62% higher maternal death rate than states that currently have no bans.

The study says these numbers highlight the lack of already low maternal health infrastructure, having a 32% lower ratio of OB-GYNS to birth and a 59% lower ratio of midwives to birth.

Both sides of the abortion issue see the results differently.

"A lack of abortion access often correlates with a lack of healthcare access," said Vara Lyons with the Mississippi ACLU.

She says these numbers show that when certain states banned abortions, facilities closed. Some of them were providing other women's care too, leaving states with even fewer options.

Areas where this happened, she says, were not well equipped to handle the health needs of women and mothers like when ectopic pregnancies happen or when the fetus dies in the womb.

"There are a lot of women who are going to be forced to carry pregnancies to term for non-viable fetuses," she said.

While the ACLU plans to lobby against further bans in the state, they believe one national solution would be the expansion of Medicaid in these states to cover mothers after birth.

"Right now, 60% of pregnancies in the state are covered by Medicaid, and Medicaid only goes up to two months after pregnancy. But the CDC has found that many deaths occur within that 43 to 365-day window postpartum," said Lyons.

National Right to life, a national anti-abortion organization says this study uses numbers from 2016-2020.

"The conclusions drawn have nothing to do with abortion laws that may exist now since all states were governed by Roe v. Wade at the time," the organization says.

In a statement, the group points out that there are several bills proposed by Republicans at the federal level that, if passed, would provide things like portals to link women up to federal and state aid, expand the child tax credit, and "permit pregnant mothers to receive a monthly payment starting several months prior to a child's due date."

Others suggest a solution needs to happen at the research level.

"It's a reflection of the health segregation that we have in terms of, populations of color, not having access to the best institutions, the highest quality health care, and the most evidence-based care," said Jecca Steinberg, an obstetrician at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

She conducted a study that shows that all non-white racial and ethnic groups are underrepresented in OB-GYN clinical trials which can have harmful impacts on maternal health.

"When clinical trials lack, which are the gold standard, lack diversity. The research outcomes only capture what health looks like in a small fragment of the population and our ability to address health inequities is hugely limited," she said.

Meanwhile, Mississippi is doing things like training EMTs to better handle births outside of a hospital or a home to help the maternal death rate.

Those who debate the issue of how abortion should be handled in America agree that more needs to be done to help mothers beat the odds.