The association between state-level abortion restrictions and maternal mortality in the United States, 1995-2017

Contraception. 2021 Nov;104(5):496-501. doi: 10.1016/j.contraception.2021.03.018. Epub 2021 Mar 26.


Objective: To explore the relationship between abortion restrictions and maternal mortality in the United States.

Study design: This was a retrospective study examining maternal mortality in the United States from 1995 to 2017. We used the Global Health Data Exchange and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention WONDER databases to extract maternal mortality data for all 50 states for each year from 1995 to 2017. We categorized states as restrictive, neutral, or protective of abortion access according to policy information published by the Guttmacher Institute. We assessed associations between abortion restrictions and maternal mortality ratios (maternal deaths per 100,000 live births).

Results: In 1995, the mean maternal mortality ratios were similar across all groups of states (Restrictive 12.6, 95% CI 11.4-13.6; Neutral 12.2, 95% CI 10.9-13.4; Protective 10.9, 95% CI 9.6-11.9). Maternal mortality ratios increased for each group of states over time and in 2017, the mean maternal mortality ratio was higher in restrictive states than in protective states (Restrictive 28.5, 95% CI 20.7-35.1; Neutral 22.9, 95% CI 16.1-28.6; Protective 15.7, 95% CI 10.7-19.9). Regressions accounting for policy, state and year showed a statistically significant increase in maternal mortality ratios in restrictive states relative to neutral states (1.06, 95% CI 1.01-1.11) and a non-significant decrease associated with protective states (0.89, 95% CI 0.78-1.01).

Conclusions: States that restrict abortion have higher maternal mortality than states that either protect or are neutral towards abortion. Further investigation is needed to determine how abortion restrictions are associated with increased maternal mortality.

Implications: The association between abortion restrictions and maternal mortality may reflect the overall legislative priorities of individual states as restrictive states are less likely to pass proactive legislation demonstrated to improve maternal outcomes.

Keywords: Abortion; Abortion restrictions; Maternal mortality; Targeted regulation of abortion providers (TRAP).

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Abortion, Induced*
  • Abortion, Legal
  • Female
  • Global Health
  • Humans
  • Maternal Death*
  • Maternal Mortality
  • Pregnancy
  • Retrospective Studies
  • United States / epidemiology