Demonstrators during an abortion-rights protest in Los Angeles, California, U.S., on Tuesday, May 3, 2022. Abortion rights suddenly emerged as an issue that could reshape the battle between Democrats and Republicans for control of Congress, following a report that conservatives on the U.S. Supreme Court were poised to strike down the half-century-old Roe v. Wade precedent. Photographer: Jill Connelly/Bloomberg via Getty Images

How outlawing abortion could worsen America's maternal mortality crisis

Updated 1:45 PM ET, Tue May 10, 2022

(CNN)Dr. Judette Louis recalls a time when she treated a patient who was hemorrhaging from her pregnancy — and how she had to wait to obtain permission before she was allowed to terminate the pregnancy for the health of the mother.

"I was standing there watching her hemorrhage out, waiting for permission to do the termination. It is a disgusting feeling. It is a sad feeling. And you're sitting there literally watching her blood pressure going down while you're waiting for permission," the Chair of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of South Florida told CNN. "It's just sad to now know if [Roe] really is overturned, that that will be happening all over across the country where [terminating a pregnancy] won't even be a possibility for a lot of states."
Dr. Louis and other health care experts fear that potential widespread abortion bans will deepen the United States' maternal mortality crisis as the likelihood increases that Roe v. Wade — the landmark ruling that legalized the procedure in 1973 — could be overturned in the coming months.  Health care experts told CNN they worry that reducing access to abortion — by closing clinics, setting early gestational limits or outlawing the procedure altogether — may lead to more pregnancy-related deaths in the United States.
Rates of pregnancy-related deaths in the US are the highest in the developed world and have risen steadily over time, with Black women three times more likely to die in pregnancy or childbirth than White women. The CDC recently reported that the rate of pregnancy-related deaths increased from 20.1 in 2019 to 23.8 in 2020, continuing a worrying trend of worsening maternal health outcomes for people in the United States.
If the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade as a draft opinion suggested, more than half of all states are poised to ban abortion through pre-existing bans or "trigger laws" set to be enacted if Roe is overturned. As a result, more than 10 million people of reproductive age would have to cross state lines to access the procedure in the nearest state where it is legal, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a pro-choice research and policy institute.
"[People] may seek unsafe ways of terminating a pregnancy and could have harmful consequences," said Whitney Rice, the director of the Center for Reproductive Health Research in the Southeast at Emory University. "You also have people who may sort of be forced to continue pregnancies to term and could have a risk of infant health outcomes that include low birth weight, preterm birth, or may have a risk of maternal mortality."
Maternal mortality rates are already high in those states certain or likely to ban abortion — 47% higher