Monday, June 20, 2022

Overturning Roe would increase births, strain already stressed maternal services in rural areas, experts say

If the U.S. Supreme Court decides this month that there is no constitutional right to abortion, overturning almost 50 years of case law, health officials expect more births that will put more pressure on "already strained rural obstetrics units," Liz Carey reports for The Daily Yonder.

Brock Slabach, chief operating officer of the National Rural Health Association, told Carey that
Michigan officials anticipate between 8,000 and 20,000 additional live births a year in that state. “That could overwhelm a lot of hospitals,” he said. “Let me be clear — the maternity care crisis is already here. I don’t want to say that it’s going to get bad. It’s already bad … We are already under-staffed and under-resourced for deliveries in rural areas.” He said many rural areas are “maternity deserts,” so, if Roe v. Wade is overturned, “We could have real capacity issues with many more live births.”

Citing a report from The Commonwealth Fund, Carey says fewer than half of the nation's rural counties have obstetric services: "With fewer OB units, rural women are facing longer travel times to get to a hospital that can deliver their babies. The OB unit closures also mean increases in births outside hospitals, births in hospitals without obstetrics care, and preterm births — all of which put both mother and child at risk."

Maternal sickness and mortality is already higher for rural residents, and would likely get worse if abortions are greatly limited, Katy Backes Kozhimannil, professor at the University of Minnesota and director of the its Rural Health Research Center, told Carey. "The impact would most be felt by marginalized communities within rural areas, she said."

Carey notes: "According to the U.S. Government Accountability Office, the more rural an area is, the higher the rate of deaths among pregnant women. The GAO found that rural areas with small urban clusters saw 19.8 maternal deaths per every 100,000 live births, where rural areas with no urban clusters saw 23.8 deaths. In comparison, large metropolitan areas with over 1 million residents saw 14.6 deaths per every 100,000 live births, while small and mid-sized metropolitan areas saw 16.2 deaths. Greater disparities exist by race and ethnicity, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found. Black women in rural counties had 59.3 deaths per 100,000 live births, compared to 19.7 for white women in those same counties."

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