In 2021, maternal mortality rates hit their highest level since 1965, according to new data released Thursday. And that’s before Roe v. Wade was overturned in June 2022; before a woman was forced to bring her clotted blood to a hospital to prove she needed an abortion; before doctors in Texas sent a woman home, because she hadn’t yet passed out, run a high fever, or developed a deadly infection yet, to ensure that the doctors who later performed her abortion wouldn’t be arrested. And before right-wingers brought a lawsuit in front of a Trump-appointed judge seeking to ban mifepristone, one of the two drugs used in medication abortion.
The anti-mifepristone side spread misinformation during a Wednesday hearing, with Erik Baptist, the lead attorney with the Christian rightwing Alliance Defending Freedom, asking: “How many women must die or come close to death before the F.D.A. takes mifepristone off the market?” according to the New York Times.
Actually, mifepristone is totally safe—safer than Viagra and penicillin. What isn’t safe is being a pregnant person in America. As Jezebel’s Susan Rinkunas wrote in July: “Abortion is very safe. Giving birth, less so.” And the latest maternal mortality statistics depressingly bear that out: In 2021, the U.S. became one of the most dangerous developed nations to give birth in, according to the latest report from the National Center for Health Statistics. The number of people dying during or after pregnancy rose to 1,205 in 2021, a 40 percent increase from 861 in 2020. This puts the U.S. at 33 deaths per 100,000 live births. It was 20 per 100,000 in 2019 and 24 in 2020. Steady upward progress! The U.S. now has one of the top five worst maternal death rates in the world, better only than India, Brazil, and China.
But if “fourth highest in the world” and “highest rate since 1965” aren’t terrifying enough statistics for you, here’s another: In February, the World Health Organization reported that, in the U.S., the maternal mortality rate rose 78 percent between 2000 and 2020 and, a period in which maternal mortality rates in all other high-income countries dropped.
Of course, it wouldn’t be America if these statistics didn’t also come with racial disparities. The maternal mortality rate for Black women (69.9 deaths per 100,000) was nearly three times that of white women (26.6). Maternal mortality rates also increased significantly with age: rising from 20.4 deaths per 100,000 for those under 25 to 138.5 for women 40 and older.
This latest increase is largely attributed to covid—which put pregnant people at a higher risk of death or severe longterm complications—and the knock-on effects of the pandemic, which exacerbated existing issues in the American healthcare system and worsened health problems like cardiovascular disease or diabetes.
“A roughly 40 percent increase in preventable deaths compared to a year prior is stunning news,” Dr. Iffath Abbasi Hoskins, the president of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, said in a statement Thursday (though she also noted that the stats had been preliminarily reported late last year).
We’re still waiting for Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk’s decision out of Texas on whether or not he’ll try to get mifepristone removed from the market. If he rules against the pill, despite Baptist’s idiotic and completely uninformed comments, it will only make the lives of pregnant Americans even more dangerous.