Last weekend marked the one-year anniversary of the Dobbs legislation that overturned Roe v. Wade, severely limiting access to abortions for 22 million US women. Legislation that forces pregnancy disvalues the lives and lived experience of women. Such legislation is misogyny in its most fatal form.
Maternal mortality increased during the COVID-19 pandemic with about 800 women dying from pregnancy-related causes and childbirth every day in 2020. In total, there was one maternal death roughly every two minutes, equaling 287,000 deaths per year
And yet, many maternal deaths are preventable. Pregnancy is a medical condition for which women deserve proper care, and the option of abortion should be included in such care. For perspective, over 250,000 women in the U.S. are diagnosed with breast cancer annually, which can be treatable. A sweeping legal rule mandating how all breast cancer should be treated would never be able to account for the nuances of each individual case, and legal rulings on abortion suggest that all mothers and pregnancies are equal and the same.
While maternal mortality can affect women of any race, mortality disproportionately affects marginalized communities and patients of color. My own mother, an immigrant from South Korea, almost died the day after giving birth to my older sister. She experienced excessive bleeding in the postpartum period. Despite going to the emergency room of the hospital where she had delivered, the doctors sent her home, saying that she was being overly nervous. The bleeding did not stop or slow down. When she went back to the emergency room the same day, doctors discovered that she was in a life-threatening situation due to a portion of retained placenta. The experience was so traumatic that my mother temporarily decided to never have another child, only changing her mind when she saw pairs of siblings playing happily together.
Maternal care, both before and after birth, is important to help prevent adverse outcomes, including maternal death, but access remains a problem. Potential health risks due to pregnancy are myriad. These risks may happen early or late in pregnancy or after giving birth and include high blood pressure, diabetes, various infections, and bleeding. After birth, even one without complications, a woman’s body is changed, and health issues related to pregnancy can persist or be detected in the postpartum period.
Post-pregnancy health conditions may include high blood pressure, diabetes, heart failure, blood clotting, and depression or anxiety. But seven million women live in maternity care deserts, U.S. counties with no access to a hospital or birth center with obstetric providers. Ongoing hospital closures, particularly in rural areas, are exacerbating the problem. Even for women with access to obstetric care, costs of medical bills can be prohibitive. If continuation of pregnancy is being legally mandated by the government, valuing the pregnant woman would put priority on providing local, free, universal access to proper prenatal and maternal care.
To be sure, unlike other medical conditions like cancer, pregnancy can be sought and desired. But just because pregnancy may be enviable does not negate the potential health risks. And to be sure, pregnancy, unlike other medical conditions, involves a growing baby. While the debate over when life begins rages on, it is misogyny to disregard the rights of the pregnant woman who is undoubtedly alive. To value a woman includes allowing a woman the right to control her own body.
The majority of medical conditions and their treatment are considered private. Pregnancy has real associated health risks and should have the same privacy surrounding it as other medical conditions. Within a protected healthcare space, pregnant women and doctors should be able to discuss and choose how to manage pregnancy on an individual case-by-case basis
Threats of legal repercussions for abortion care adversely affect maternal care. The solution is simple. Unilateral bans on abortion should be lifted. The government should instead mandate abortion bans as constitutionally unsound and misogynistic barriers to a woman’s life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness.