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New study finds increase in child deaths in Texas after implementation of SB 8

New study finds increase in child deaths in Texas after implementation of SB 8

New study finds increase in child deaths in Texas after implementation of SB 8

Infant deaths in Texas increased in the year following the passage of a 2021 law restricting access to abortion, a new study shows.

The study, published Monday in JAMA Pediatrics, compared child deaths in Texas between 2018 and 2022 with 28 comparison states. It found that both infant deaths, described as children under 1 year old, and neonatal deaths, children under 28 days old, increased following the implementation of the abortion law, commonly known as SB 8.

The law prohibits abortions after the fetus’s heartbeat can be detected, usually around six weeks. Abortion access in Texas was further restricted after the fall of Roe v. Wade, with the state only allowing the procedure in the case of certain medical exemptions.

Suzanne Bell, a professor of public health at Johns Hopkins and one of the study’s authors, said this research is one of the first to empirically examine the effect of abortion laws that restrict the procedure before the fetus is viable. Since the 2021 law was among the strictest in the country at the time, Bell said this research provides a unique preview of the impacts other states with similar abortion bans may experience.

“These abortion bans have significant consequences in terms of trauma for families and medical costs associated with care,” she said.

Amy O’Donnell, communications director for Texas Alliance for Life, said the study results are not surprising, since birth rates in Texas have increased after the passage of the abortion ban and therefore Infant deaths would also increase.

“Losing a child is difficult, but aborting it does not eliminate the loss and deprives the fetus and the family of time together, no matter how short,” she said in a statement. “The lives of babies diagnosed with life-threatening or life-limiting disabilities have value and are worthy of being treated with dignity.”

Bell noted that infant deaths have increased even more than expected with an increase in live births. In previous research, she found just under 10,000 additional live births in 2022 associated with SB 8. If the infant mortality rate before the law were applied, 53 additional infant deaths would be expected, she said. Instead, Texas recorded 255 additional child deaths, according to her findings.

Researchers also examined the cause of death of the growing number of deaths and found that some specific causes were more common.

While infant deaths increased by 12.9% from 2021 to 2022, deaths from congenital malformations increased by 22.9%. The researchers also noted an increase in accidental deaths during the same period, which they said could clearly be explained by the data.

“The additional live births in Texas that occurred during the 2022 period disproportionately included pregnancies with increased risk of infant mortality, and particularly those involving congenital anomalies,” Bell said. “It’s not just about forcing more people to continue their pregnancies, it involves certain types of pregnancies.”

Bell said that since many life-threatening birth defects are not diagnosed until the end of the first trimester, long after the fetal heartbeat is detected, SB 8 would have prohibited a pregnant person from undergoing an abortion in Texas.

This type of case made national news last winter when Kate Cox, a Dallas-area woman, unsuccessfully sued the state of Texas to access an abortion under the state’s medical exemption policy to terminate her non-viable pregnancy. She ultimately left the state to have the procedure.

“I’m grateful that I was able to access medical care and that I was able to make a compassionate decision for our family,” Cox told CNN last week when announcing her new pregnancy.

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