Reproductive and Social Policies, Sociopolitical Stress, and Implications for Maternal and Child Health Equity

Curr Environ Health Rep. 2024 Jun;11(2):279-287. doi: 10.1007/s40572-024-00443-w. Epub 2024 Apr 19.


Purpose of review: Although many environmental exposures (e.g., air pollution) are geographically patterned and persist as a result of historic economic policies (e.g., redlining), the impact of reproductive and social policies on maternal and child health remains incompletely understood. Reproductive and social policies are increasingly important for maternal and child health equity, particularly following the 2022 US Supreme Court decision in Dobbs v Jackson Women's Health Organization ("Dobbs decision"), which restricted access to abortion. Here, we summarize the literature from original research studies examining influences of reproductive and social policy on maternal and child health, focusing on impacts on adverse birth outcomes and policies as sources of stress.

Recent findings: Several studies suggest that those most impacted by the Dobbs decision are younger, non-white, socioeconomically disadvantaged, and living in states with less access to government safety net programs, all of which are compounded by environmental injustices. Further, studies conducted in the wake of the Dobbs decision find elevated stress levels among women of reproductive age. This may represent one pathway leading to adverse birth outcomes, as epidemiologic studies demonstrate that preterm birth rates increased following the 2016 election, a period of heightened stress. Reproductive and social policies are understudied contributors to adverse outcomes for reproductive-aged women and their children. This has important implications for maternal and child health equity, as those who will be the most impacted by reproductive and social policies already experience the highest rates of adverse birth outcomes and environmental toxicant exposure.

Keywords: Health equity; Policy; Pregnancy; Stress.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Child Health*
  • Female
  • Health Equity*
  • Humans
  • Maternal Health
  • Pregnancy
  • Public Policy*
  • Stress, Psychological*
  • United States