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The state responsible for destroying decades of federal reproductive rights protections also has the highest rate of babies dying before their first birthday, an infant mortality rate that is double for African Americans.
On Friday, pro-choice Americans made their voices heard in federal courthouses across the country as they protest the recent ruling by the United States Supreme Court in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization upholding the state’s 15-week abortion ban, ultimately overriding a federal right to abortion and letting individual states decide the matter.
The state ban was in clear violation of the landmark Roe v. Wade, a precedent that affirmed the right to abortion for half a century. Yet, Justice Clarence Thomas indicating that the Court should now “reconsider” other cases that legalized contraceptives, same-sex relationships and same-sex marriage, anti-abortion activists and politicians have been encouraged to reinforce what they call “the right to life”.
Meanwhile, states like Mississippi and Oklahoma that are leading the fight to ban abortion haven’t expressed as much enthusiasm for reducing their infant mortality rates.
High infant mortality rates in “pro-life” states
According to Centers for Disease Control“Infant mortality is the death of a child before its first birthday. The infant mortality rate is the number of infant deaths per 1,000 live births.
The top five causes of infant death are birth defects, premature birth, sudden infant death syndrome, injury, and maternal pregnancy complications.
Notably, black newborns are three times more likely to die in hospital when cared for by a white doctor as opposed to a black doctor, according to a 2020 study by researchers at George Mason University that analyzed 1.8 million births in Florida hospitals from 1992 to 2015. And as many in the black community already painfully know, black women are several times more likely to die from childbirth than white women in the States -United.
In Mississippi, the state with the highest infant mortality rate, there were 615 infant deaths out of 72,114 live births in 2020, or 8.5 infant deaths per 1,000 live births, according to the latest report from Mississippi State Department of Health.
When broken down by race, the disparity becomes even worse. In 2020, even though there were more than 2,000 more white births than black births in Mississippi, black babies died at a rate almost double (179) of white babies (100).
At a press conference on Friday, the owner of the Jackson Women’s Health Organization, dubbed the Pink House, said they would open a new location in Las Cruces, New Mexico, which would be ready in a few weeks, according to Reuters. The New Mexico legislature has taken legislative action to ensure that it stay legalunlike neighboring states of Texas, Oklahoma, Utah and Arizona, which did the opposite.
“We’ve prepared, but nothing can really prepare you for the day it happens,” Jackson Women’s Health Organization executive director Shannon Brewer said Friday. “We’re still here, we’re still fighting, we’re just fighting in a different place.”
Oklahoma’s infant mortality rate is 25% higher than the national average, data page removed from state website
For its part, Oklahoma has presented itself as a leader in the fight against abortion. Governor Kevin Stitt has been called the ‘most pro-life governor’ after signing a slew of anti-abortion bills that criminalize abortion from conception, drop felony charges against doctors who perform the procedure, and allow private citizens to sue anyone they believe helps someone obtain an abortion.
Meanwhile, Oklahoma’s infant mortality rate is 25% higher than the national average, according to 2019 data from the Oklahoma State Health Department. Governor Stitt has campaigned for years to make Oklahoma the most pro-life state, but he hasn’t once spoken about the infant mortality rate.
Curiously, the data showing Oklahoma’s rate is higher than the national average no longer appears on the state’s website. The state site only shows how much the rate has fallen over the years, while displaying an error message for the specific page pointing to the abnormally high infant mortality rate.
To view this data on the infant mortality rate, one must access an Internet archive of deleted pages called Return machine.
Abortion ban sows fear and confusion
The chaos and confusion created by Oklahoma’s series of laws was intentional, at least according to reproductive rights advocates.
“Can people donate to the Roe Fund?” ACLU of Oklahoma Executive Director Tamya Cox Touré asked State impact Catherine Sweney. “Can people just say to people, ‘You have options in other states’? Is it a violation,” she added, accusing heads of state of creating a climate of fear and doubt.
“We really think that may have been very intentional,” she said. “That’s really part of the strategy behind these ultra-conservative bills.”
Although Oklahoma has one of the strongest anti-abortion laws in place, none of them explicitly ban contraceptives or IUDs at this time.
REMINDER: Although the SCOTUS judges seem to be eyeing Griswold v. Connecticut, and that there seems to be an appetite among some elected GOP officials to pivot to birth control: PLAN B, IUDs, and all other birth control methods are still legal in Oklahoma. #okhealth #okleg
— Catherine Sweeney (@CathJSweeney) June 24, 2022
Yet, with US Attorney General Merrick Garland’s warning, they cannot ban FDA-approved abortion drugs like mifepristonethe ongoing attack on reproductive rights promises to remain an uphill battle.
Correction: A previous headline incorrectly stated that Oklahoma’s infant mortality rate was double the national average. It is 25% higher than the national average.