The Gestational Age Act bans all abortions after 15 weeks in Mississippi, except those that the “good faith” and “clinical judgement” of the physician deem “necessary to preserve the life of a pregnant woman.” Rape and incest are not mentioned at all.
Though this bill is currently blocked from taking effect by a federal judge, it contradicts itself by giving doctors full jurisdiction over women’s bodies, which will greatly increase stress, fear and denial among pregnant women – especially those of color and low income. This could deteriorate their health and, in the words of the bill, cause a “life-endangering physical condition” to arise “from the pregnancy itself.”
More and more studies are identifying the ways social stressors affect health. Research published in 2017 in the Social Science & Medicine journal proves that “chronic stress, such as in the form of social adversity” elevates cortisol levels, which increases risk of disease and death. Mayo Clinic offers tips to “control your stress” but fails to acknowledge that, for many people, “stress management” is not an option.
Discrimination and low income are both social adversity stressors.
With the highest percentage of black residents in the country besides Washington, D.C., a history of racism that still persists today and 20.8 percent of the population living in poverty (compared to 12.7 percent in the country), black and poor Mississippians are disproportionately vulnerable to the negative health effects of stress.
Domestic and sexual violence are also social stressors.
Women account for 90 percent of adult rape victims in the U.S. and black women experience intimate partner violence at a rate 35 percent higher than that of white women. Because of these stressors, Mississippi’s female population is extremely prone to medical conditions induced by chronically high cortisol levels. These conditions include high blood pressure, which may cause pregnancy complications such as pre-eclampsia.
Medical sexism is another social stressor that makes it difficult for women to trust physicians. Studies and articles show that American doctors, 66 percent of whom are male, do not take female pain seriously.
With 1,954 clinical trials studying erectile dysfunction on PubMed but only 446 on dyspareunia, vaginismus and vulvodynia, it’s clear that the medical community prioritizes male pleasure over female pain. In addition, doctors often ignore symptoms of endometriosis, which affects an estimated 6.5 million women in the U.S. and Canada.
Chronic stress exacerbates the fear of an unwanted pregnancy, which could cause a woman to deny that a fetus is growing inside of her. One in 400 or 500 women is 20 weeks into her pregnancy before realizing it.
If a woman does not know she is pregnant, she may not take appropriate health precautions, such as abstaining from alcohol, drugs and tobacco – all of which affect not only her but also the fetus. This is an issue in Mississippi, where the infant mortality rate is 8.6 per 1,000 live births, compared to the national 5.9.
A doctor’s “clinical judgment” may be ignorant of the fact that chronic stress caused by discrimination, poverty, violence, sexism and unwanted pregnancy all threaten the life of an abortion-seeking woman.
HB 1510 asserts that physicians who violate the prohibition will have their medical licenses suspended or revoked.
By denying a woman autonomy over her body and by placing her life in the “good faith” of a physician, HB 1510 in and of itself is creating a “life-endangering physical condition” for the pregnant woman because it ignores how the social stressors listed above, combined with the fear of an unwanted pregnancy, could very well kill her.
For every 100,000 live births in Mississippi, approximately 29 white and 55 black women die during pregnancy or a year after childbirth (compared to seven in Canada, which has no restrictions on bodily autonomy).
Jacqueline Knirnschild is a sophomore anthropology and Chinese double major from Brunswick, Ohio.