Op-ed: Abortion bans are making America’s maternal health crisis even worse

Image via Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

By Gina Arias, Diarra Diouf

January 18, 2024

The extreme right-wing attacks on reproductive health care have already had dire consequences. This adds up to a very dismal picture for women of childbearing age.

It has become painfully clear that we live in a nation where the health of women, mothers, and birthing people is at the bottom of our priorities list and as a result we are failing them miserably.

On what should be a celebratory day for the right to bodily autonomy, the 51st anniversary of the landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion in the United States, January 22nd will instead be marked by growing anxiety for millions of women in the United States. Currently, almost half the states ban abortion or restrict it to very early in pregnancy, and now there are attempts to deny access to Mifepristone, a medication that is the gold standard treatment for miscarriages and is used in most abortions. The U.S. Supreme Court is gearing up to decide whether to allow access to Mifepristone, which has been safely and effectively used by more than five million people since it was first approved by the FDA over 23 years ago.

These extreme right-wing attacks on reproductive health care have already had dire consequences. In a recent ABC special report, pregnant women from across the country told harrowing stories of near death, after being unable to receive access to reproductive care, even as their lives were in grave danger. One ob/gyn featured in the program said that what is happening to women as a result of these restrictive bans “feels like state-sanctioned suffering”.

 

RELATED: Florida abortion rights amendment gets enough signatures for 2024 ballot

 

To make matters worse, these threats to reproductive care come during a crisis in birthing in the United States. Our nation ranks last among high-income countries with regard to maternal deaths. In fact, our maternal mortality rate is 3 times greater than the nation with the next highest rate. Moms in every southern state are amongst those most at risk of dying in childbirth, with Black and Indigenous women bearing the greatest brunt of the crisis. And according to the most recent data, our maternal mortality crisis is worsening, despite the fact that the CDC has determined that more than 80% of maternal deaths (4 out of 5 deaths of mothers) are preventable.

All this adds up to a very dismal picture for women of childbearing age. Two generations ago, the grandmothers of millions of these women had much greater access to reproductive health care and less chance of dying during childbirth than they do today, 50 years later.

Making this bad situation even worse, our nation isn’t doing nearly enough to support maternal mental health – even though maternal mental health disorders are the most common complication of pregnancy and birth. According to a recent report from the Policy Center for Maternal Mental Health titled U.S. Maternal Mental Health Dark Zones, 70% of counties lack sufficient maternal mental health resources. The ‘dark zones’ are defined as areas where pregnant women and new mothers have both a high risk for mental health conditions and the demand for services to treat those conditions is much higher than the available resources.

 

RELATED: Florida Republican introduces bill to ban virtually all abortions

 

The top five states in ‘maternal mental health dark zones’ also have a high concentration of maternity care deserts, areas where there are no hospitals providing obstetric care, no birth centers, no ob/gyns and no certified nurse midwives. Furthermore, these same five states have nearly total abortion bans in place. It is truly disgraceful that in some of the most dangerous places to give birth in the industrialized world, women are essentially being forced to give birth in environments where their risk of mental health conditions is high and the resources to address those conditions are lacking.

We need our lawmakers to end the abortion bans and ensure that everyone has access to the reproductive healthcare they need. One of the ways to do that is for constituents to encourage lawmakers to support the Women’s Health Protection Act. In order to save the lives of birthing people and put an end to the maternal mortality crisis, Congress should pass the Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act, which provides supports to the most vulnerable pregnant women.

It is an outrage that women and moms in this country are being dealt multiple blows: increasing preventable maternal deaths, maternity care deserts, abortion bans, and maternal mental health dark zones. We need to take urgent, serious action to end these multiple crises and invest in maternal health. We can, and must, do better.

A resident of Boca Raton and registered nurse who has worked in public health for 25+ years, Gina Arias is Campaign Director for Maternal Mental Health at MomsRising. Diarra Diouf is Campaign Director, Reproductive Justice + Maternal Justice at MomsRising.

Authors

  • Gina Arias

    A resident of Boca Raton and registered nurse who has worked in public health for 25+ years, Gina Arias is Campaign Director for Maternal Mental Health at MomsRising.

  • Diarra Diouf

    Diarra Diouf is Campaign Director, Reproductive Justice + Maternal Justice at MomsRising.

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