How lack of access to abortion can impact women’s health

Story at a glance
In early May, a leaked draft opinion stated the Supreme Court plans on overturning Roe v. Wade, which protected women’s right to have an abortion.
If overturned, it would be up to individual state governments to decide whether abortion is legal. At least 26 states are poised to outlaw it entirely if Roe is overturned.
A lack of access to abortion has a number of health consequences for women including increasing rates of maternal mortality as well as depression and anxiety.
Earlier this month, Politico published a leaked draft opinion stating the Supreme Court plans to vote to overturn Roe v. Wade, the groundbreaking 1973 decision that protected women’s right to choose to have an abortion.

In the draft opinion, Justice Samuel Alito wrote that “Roe was egregiously wrong from the start” and “we hold that Roe and Casey must be overruled.” A final decision from the Supreme Court is expected in June or July and if overturned, states would be allowed to decide whether to have legal abortion care — and it looks as if at least 26 states will likely ban abortion completely.

Since the opinion leaked, activists, educators and health experts across the country have warned about how a world without Roe will be catastrophic for women’s health, particularly for poor women of color.

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“Women and children will die,” said Carolyn West, associate dean of special initiatives at the University of Washington, Tacoma. “That’s the bottom line.”

Expect a higher maternal mortality rate

The United States has the highest maternal mortality rate of any country in the industrialized world. In 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 861 women died in childbirth and that number is going up. Some health care providers warn that with the overturning of Roe v. Wade, maternal mortality rates could go up in the country. Already some conservative lawmakers are pushing to try to enact legislation making it illegal to perform an abortion with no exceptions, even if the abortion would be done to save the life of the mother.

Expect it to become harder to treat miscarriages

Some miscarriages are treated the same ways as abortions. Although some women who miscarry do not need any medical intervention, others will need to take medication to ensure all the contents of the uterus are expelled while others will need to undergo a medical procedure called a dilation and curettage where a doctor inserts an instrument into the uterus to scrap blood and fetal remains.

In Texas, which already has very restrictive abortion laws, there are already threats to miscarriage treatment. A state law passed last year bans the use of several medications as abortion-inducing drugs but two of those medications, misoprostol and mifepristone, are used for treating early miscarriages.

“Overturning Roe v Wade certainly also opens the door to people who have a miscarriage being questioned about their pregnancy how come you know doctors being concerned about whether or not they can provide certain treatment,” Krishna Upadhya, vice president of quality care and health equity at Planned Parenthood Federation of America, told Changing America.

“Bans on abortions don’t make sense from a scientific and medical standpoint…when you overturn Roe versus Wade and allow bans to take place across the country, the potential harms are just really far reaching and devastating,” she added.

Expect mental health to become worse for some women

Making it more difficult or impossible to access abortion could harm the mental health of some women. Shortly after news broke that the Supreme Court would likely vote to overturn Roe v. Wade, the American Psychological Association released a statement expressing concern over the potential undoing of the decision. One study found that most women who receive an abortion do not regret the decision years later and that those denied an abortion actually suffer from worse mental health down the line than those who chose to terminate their pregnancy.

“Rigorous, long-term psychological research demonstrates clearly that people who are denied abortions are more likely to experience higher levels of anxiety, lower life satisfaction and lower self-esteem compared with those who are able to obtain abortions,” said APA President Frank C. Worrell. “In addition, there is no research to indicate that abortion is a cause for subsequent mental health diagnoses.”

Expect it to be more difficult for some women to leave abusive relationships

In his statement, Worrell also adds that there is a “strong relationship” between unwanted pregnancy and interpersonal violence with there being evidence to show that a lack of access to abortion increases the chances that women in abusive relationships will experience physical abuse from their partners. Between 6 to 22 percent of women seeking to terminate a pregnancy reported experiencing intimate partner violence, according to a 2014 study.

Women of color are more likely to suffer the most from lack of abortion access given that they experience intimate partner violence at higher rates than white women. Around 40 percent of Black women will experience intimate partner violence in their lifetime while 55 percent of Native women will experience physical intimate partner violence.