29 June 2022 Blog Post: On SCOTUS an the Dismantling of Women's Health

While last week’s decision to roll back the constitutional protections afforded to women by Roe v. Wade was traumatic, it was not the first first salvo in the assault on women’s health in the United States. Efforts to undermine the health and well being of women convincingly began during the Trump Administration as evidenced by the rise maternal mortality rates for both 2019 and 2020 (Figure 1 below; “1” superscript designates statistically significant increases).

Unsurprisingly, the United States lags far behind its peers in maternal mortality rates – which makes the comments by world leaders regarding the SCOTUS decision all the more prescient. Figure 2 below shows how the US stacks up against other countries (2018 are the latest data in this figure, the current situation in the US is even worse with 23.8 deaths per 100,000 live births).  Note that a pregnant woman in New Zealand has a 14 fold reduced risk of dying as compared to an American woman. A pregnant African-American woman is 32 times more likely to die as compared to her New Zealand counterpart. Putting that in perspective, smoking cigarettes increases your risk of lung cancer by 25 fold.

There are only two factors that significantly modify the risk of maternal mortality: first, access to contraception, and second, access to safe abortion. This makes it straightforward in one sense but, in another, makes it incredibly easy to dismantle health safeguards.

How do we know this?  Countries with better training of and access to abortion providers have lower maternal mortality rates (Darney et al. Obstet Gynecol. 2020;135(6):1362). This relationship is also true in the United States; states that have restricted abortion access have increasing maternal mortality while it is declining in states with improved access to abortion services (Addante et al. Contraception. 2021;104(5):496. Epub 2021 Mar 26).

Governors in three western states (California, Washington and Oregon) have committed to making pregnancy termination services accessible to all. A number of companies have already stated that they will provide transportation services for employees to states that have such services. 

Those that would wish harm on women are not going to stop here. With only two factors modifying maternal health, the next logical point of attack will be on contraception availability.

Safeguarding maternal health is simply not within the purview of the 9 lawyers of SCOTUS; it is a public health issue. Their reckless disregard for the limits of their knowledge will have one simple downstream effect – it will kill women. 

𝗦𝗶𝗴𝗻 𝗨𝗽 𝗳𝗼𝗿 𝗢𝘂𝗿 𝗡𝗲𝘄𝘀𝗹𝗲𝘁𝘁𝗲𝗿

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