This all happened in the last two weeks alone: Nekea Brooks was 27 and two months pregnant when she was shot and killed in Fayetteville, North Carolina on May 16. She leaves behind a five year old girl. Mijor Kay Anderson was a 30-year-old pregnant mother of eight when she went missing from Vicksburg, MS last October. His body was found “rolled up and thrown away like trash” in the words of her sister Amy Anderson-Williams, May 17. Tamarra Deloache of York, PA was 32 and six months pregnant when she was found dead from “Vivid Force Trauma” in his apartment on May 18. She leaves behind a 12-year-old son.
The leading cause of death for pregnant and postpartum women in the United States is not heart disease, diabetes or infections. It’s murder. Dumping abortion rights will make things so much worse.
Want more health and science stories in your inbox? Subscribe to the weekly show newsletter The vulgar scientist.
America’s heartbreaking gallop away from reproductive rights — spearheaded by an enthusiastic Supreme Court and a far-right Catholic fringe — was never meant to save lives. There was never a question of children sleeping peacefully in their mother’s loving arms. The flippant rhetoric of “safe haven” laws and grossly disconnected comments like Rep. Dan Crenshaw’s “Less abortion, more adoption. Why is this controversial?” let it be clear that the enemies of safe and legal abortion have no plan for pregnant women and they don’t care either.
“If we look around the world, women who are pregnant either by choice or because of assault or rape are often the targets of men,” explains Brigittine French, assistant vice president of global education and professor of anthropology at Grinnell College, and specialist in gender-based violence. She cites social stigma, financial insecurity and chronic abuse as aggravating factors. “Any conditions in which a woman’s sexuality is subjected to intense scrutiny,” she says, “can become victims of violence.”
RELATED: High-tech surveillance in post-Roe America: A chilling new report outlines a possible future
The most recent supporting evidence comes from a 2021 report in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology. Using the National Center for Health Statistics, the researchers found that the homicide rate was 16% higher among pregnant women than among their peers of childbearing age and noted that “homicides during pregnancy or within 42 days of termination of pregnancy exceeded all leading causes of maternal death by more than double.”
And the risks are much worse in the most vulnerable groups. “Pregnancy was associated with a significantly elevated risk of homicide in the black population and in girls and young women (ages 10–24) across all racial and ethnic subgroups,” the report continues. Speaking to Nature last year, study co-author and reproductive epidemiologist Maeve Wallace said simply, “It’s a story of age and race.”
Prior to her death, she had done an internet search for “what to do if your husband is upset that you are pregnant”.
There are a thousand things wrong with the oft-repeated lie that girls and women can and should carry every pregnancy to term — a thousand problems that the cavalier “more adoption” answer doesn’t solve. But chief among them is the very real risk of violence to a pregnant woman’s body. There are honor killings and attempted murders. Last year in Peoria, Arizona, six family members were arrested after they allegedly attempted to kidnap a 20-year-old pregnant relative. The woman told the police that she “was afraid that her relatives would kill her because they believe she has dishonored the family.”
There are marital murders. We know the infamous – it’s been twenty years since Scott Peterson killed his wife Laci and their unborn son Conner, and four since family annihilator Chris Watts murdered his wife Shannan, their unborn son Nico and their two young daughters Bella and Celeste. But last April, Beau Rothwell of Creve Coeur, Missouri, was convicted of bludgeoning his pregnant wife Jennifer to death with a mallet. Prior to her death, she had searched the Internet for “what to do if your husband is upset that you are pregnant.”
As a 2021 article published in the Journal of Women’s Health – which also explored the extremely high number of maternal deaths from suicide and overdose – noted: “When the perpetrator is known, the greatest proportion of cases of Homicide during or around pregnancy occurs in the hands of an intimate partner.” Now imagine how exponentially more dangerous everything becomes when more women who already fear for their lives cannot safely terminate pregnancies.
It is striking how little political interest there is in unborn children when they are the victims of their murdered mothers. It also profoundly shows how little medical concern there is either – the current CDC calculates maternal deaths as a “result of complications of pregnancy or childbirth” but does not include violence or accidents in their statistics. It fails to recognize violence against women as the serious health risk it actually represents.
“A lot of times the reason a younger person, a minor, might want to terminate a pregnancy is because of domestic violence.”
Conservatives like to repeat the fiction that unwanted pregnancies are caused by female filth, ignoring the dangerous dynamics of family and domestic violence. Gretchen Ely, a professor of social work at the University of Tennessee, is currently researching reproductive coercion. “Intentionally teaching someone or forced impregnation is a pregnancy tactic that is a partner abuse tactic,” she says. “I think people don’t realize the extent of pregnancy autonomy tampering that can possibly occur in a domestic violence situation.” But abortion, she says, “can be a way to get away from an abusive partner. Withdrawing it can force the formation of a family in the context of violence.” She adds: “It’s really none of our business why people have abortions. But there’s a lot of potential around an unwanted pregnancy for there to be trauma or violence happening. before this unwanted pregnancy.”
And the potential for violence – along with the utter disregard for bodily autonomy – is all the more cruel for minors. Parental consent laws — and 21 states have them — already put girls at risk. “Often the reason a younger person, a minor, might want to terminate a pregnancy is because of domestic violence and fear of what will happen to her if her parents or guardians find out she is having a pregnancy,” Eli explains. “Research has long shown that most adolescent girls would involve a trusted adult in their abortion decision anyway. Those who don’t are those who are afraid of something like domestic violence. Domestic violence against teenage girls is very common.”
Conservatives brag about believing in putting the unborn child first, but they don’t seem to care too much when the mother dies along the way. They believe in the sanctity of the family – except for children left behind as a result of abuse. They deliberately ignore the real and life-threatening danger of walking around the world in a pregnant body, because when they preach about protecting life, they imagine a very specific and exclusive type of life. As Brigittine French notes, “Pregnancy always makes women more vulnerable to the murderous judgments of those closest to them.” And it’s a death sentence in which the so-called “pro-life” movement sees no hypocrisy.
More coverage from the Reproductive Rights Show: