Samantha Casiano and Luis Villasana

Samantha Casiano and Luis Villasana are seen in Austin, Texas on July 19, 2023. Casiano was forced to carry a pregnancy after finding out her fetus had a fatal abnormality; her daughter died four hours after birth.

(Photo: Suzanne Cordeiro/AFP via Getty Images)

Under Texas GOP's Abortion Ban, Infant Deaths From Fetal Abnormalities Jumped 23%

"This is so cruel and pointless," said one advocate. "Texas and other 'pro-life' states force women to carry doomed pregnancies for months... only to watch their babies die."

By taking away from Texas residents the option of terminating a pregnancy in the case of a fetal abnormality when they passed Senate Bill 8 in 2021, Republican lawmakers in the state attained a "tragic" result, according to an analysis released Monday: The number of babies who died soon after birth from congenital conditions jumped by nearly 25% in just one year.

Overall, according to researchers at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, the state's abortion law, which bans the procedure after just six weeks of pregnancy with no exception for fetal abnormalities, led to a 13% rise in Texas' infant mortality rate from 2021-2022.

More than 200 families in the state experienced the loss of an infant shortly after birth as a result of the ban, estimated the study, which was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association Pediatrics on the second anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court's overturning of Roe v. Wade.

"Behind these numbers are people," Dr. Erika Werner, chair of obstetrics and gynecology at Tufts Medical Center, who was not involved in the research, told NBC News. "For each of these pregnancies, that's a pregnant person who had to stay pregnant for an additional 20 weeks, carrying a pregnancy that they knew likely wouldn't result in a live newborn baby."

The number of infants in Texas who died in their first month of life rose by more than 10%, according to the study.

During the period examined by the researchers, infant mortality rose by about 2% nationwide. While the number of babies who died of congenital abnormalities in Texas jumped by nearly 23%, that number decreased by about 2% across the country.

"This is pointing to a causal effect of the policy; we didn't see this increase in infant deaths in other states," lead author Alison Gemmill, assistant professor of population, family, and reproductive Health at the Bloomberg School of Public Health, told NBC News.

Nan Strauss, a senior policy analyst of maternal health at the National Partnership for Women & Families, agreed with Gemmill's conclusion, saying the study found "an ironclad link between the change in the law and the terrible outcomes that they're seeing for infants and families."

"The women and families have to suffer through an excruciating later part of pregnancy, knowing that their baby is likely to die in the first weeks of life," Strauss told NBC.

The people affected by S.B. 8 include Samantha Casiano, who joined a lawsuit filed by the Center for Reproductive Rights against the state's abortion ban. Casiano found out at 20 weeks pregnant that her baby had anencephaly and would not survive the condition. She was unable to travel out of state to get an abortion, and spent the last months of her pregnancy worrying "relentlessly about how she would afford a funeral for her daughter" while people "constantly" congratulated her. Her daughter died four hours after birth.

"Waking up every morning, knowing that your child is going to die and planning your child's funeral before your child's even here is insane, and it's unfair," Casiano toldNBC News on Monday. "There's just a lot of suffering there."

In the study published Monday, the research team analyzed death certificates in Texas and 28 other states from 2018-2022 to determine the impact of S.B. 8, building a model that calculated how many infant deaths would have occurred in Texas without the ban and comparing that number to the infant deaths that were recorded after the law was passed.

"Prior to this policy, if an anomaly was detected, people would have had the ability to legally terminate at least up to maybe about 20 weeks, or even maybe 22 weeks gestation," Gemmill toldThe Guardian. "Any infant death is tragic, but then layering on top of that, this pregnant person's situation where they know that they're carrying a fetus that is incompatible with life, whereas before, they maybe would have had the option to terminate."

Columnist Jill Filipovic said the study's findings were straightforward: "Women were forced by Texas law to have babies everyone knew would suffer and die."

"This is so cruel and pointless," said Filipovic. "Texas and other 'pro-life' states force women to carry doomed pregnancies for months, to field congratulations and questions about whether it's a boy or a girl, to go through the pain and risk of childbirth, only to watch their babies die."

Despite persistent claims by the Republican Party that abortion bans like S.B. 8 are "pro-life," said Healthcare Across Borders founder and executive director Jodi Jacobson, the study shows how the laws have already begun worsening infant mortality rates.

"We literally spent billions trying to address these very problems in low-income countries only to recreate them here," said Jacobson.

The study was released ahead of an expected ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of Idaho and Moyle, et al. v. United States, which centers on whether states can enforce bans that conflict with the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act. The law requires hospitals that accept Medicare to provide treatment to any patient with an emergency medical condition, including people facing pregnancy complications who need abortions.

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