Study Examines Health Records From the Past to See What Might Happen If Abortion Is Prohibited in Some States

With the U.S. Supreme Court allowing states to place restrictions on abortions and the prospect that the court may overturn Roe v. Wade, allowing states to ban abortion altogether, researchers at Georgia State University in Atlanta have produced a study that examined health records from the 1960 and 1970s. They found that state-level legalization of abortion produced a 30 to 40 percent decline in nonwhite maternal mortality, with little impact on overall or White maternal mortality.

Maternal mortality declined a hundredfold over the 20th century, yet Black women in the U.S. are still three times more likely to die from a pregnancy-related cause than White women. The study highlights the impact of legal abortion in reducing nonwhite maternal mortality through declines in abortion-related deaths and indicates that early state-level legalizations were crucial and, in some cases, more impactful than the landmark Roe v. Wade decision itself.

“Our findings suggest that legal abortion was crucial for nonwhite women but not as critical for White women,” said Lauren Hoehn-Velasco, assistant professor in the department of economics at Georgia State University and co-author of the study. Dr. Hoehn-Velasco joined the faculty at Georgia State in 2020 after teaching at Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania. She is a graduate of Michigan State University, where she double-majored in mathematics and economics. Dr. Hoehn-Velasco earned a master’s degree and a Ph.D. in economics at Boston College.

“The larger effects for racial and ethnic minorities could be due to economic disadvantages. These groups may have had less financial ability to travel to states or other countries allowing abortions,” said Michael Pesko, an associate professor in the department of economics at Georgia State University and a co-author of the study. “Alternatively, a number of states allowed abortions in cases where the mother’s health was at risk prior to Roe v. Wade, and nonwhite women may have had less regular access with the healthcare system to identify problematic pregnancies and receive consent for abortions from physicians.”

The working paper, “The Impact of Legal Abortion on Maternal Health: Looking to the Past to Inform the Present,” may be accessed here. The lead author of the study is Sherajum Monira Farin, a graduate student in the department of economics at Georgia State University. She holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in economics from the University of Dhaka in Bangladesh

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