For pregnant people in states with most restrictive abortion policies, higher rates of cardiovascular complications

New research from Penn Medicine finds that states with tighter restraints on abortion may be tied to higher maternal morbidity and mortality, the effects of which may extend beyond pregnancy.

Pregnant individuals living in states with tighter constraints on abortion access were found to be more likely to have cardiovascular complications, like hypertension, compared to peers in states with less abortion access restrictions, according to a new research letter from scientists at the Perelman School of Medicine. The correlation could point to potential cardiovascular impacts for those states’ population as a whole, the researchers say, in an article in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology: Advances.

Pregnant person laying in a bed with an IV drip in their arm.
Image: iStock/Motortion

The United States has the highest rate of maternal mortality among high-income countries, and cardiovascular conditions are the biggest cause of maternal mortality, making up a third of all maternal deaths in the U.S.

“Severe or untreated high blood pressure is dangerous for the pregnant person and their baby, and may lead to a cascade of pregnancy complications, including heart disease, liver disease, preterm birth, placental abruption, pre-eclampsia, and even eclampsia and seizures may follow,” says Alice Abernathy, an assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Penn.

And the risks don’t end after delivering a baby.

“Those who have pre-eclampsia are more likely to have high blood pressure, kidney disease, a heart attack, and a stroke years later,” says Jennifer Lewey, the director of Penn’s Women’s Cardiovascular Health Program and an assistant professor of cardiovascular medicine.

To conduct their study, researchers grouped states into one of three categories determined by abortion access policies—defined restrictive, intermediate, and protective. Restrictive states largely had laws that banned or severely limited abortion, whereas protective states had easier access to abortion and/or state policies protecting access to the procedure.

Within the restrictive states in the study, 2.4% of births happened in patients with chronic hypertension, compared to 1.9 in the “protective” states. Additionally, about 8% of births occurred from patients who had pregnancy-related hypertension in the restrictive category states, versus just under 7% in the protective states. And when it came to patients with eclampsia, a rate of 0.3% occurred in restrictive states, compared to 0.2% in protective states.

The research team says their findings underscore the importance of keeping a watchful eye on the potential for complications among all pregnant patients.

This story is by Matt Toal. Read more at Penn Medicine News.