On June 28 2022, amid discussions of the countless ripple effects caused by ending Roe v. Wade, a Facebook page shared a screenshot of a viral tweet claiming that the primary cause of death for pregnant women in the United States was homicide, attached to a broader concern that pregnancy-related violence would increase in the wake of the Supreme Court decision:
The first part of the June 27 2022 tweet by @davenewworld_2 (Fifty Shades of Whey) speculated that one of the effects of Dobbs v. Jackson (the decision that overturned Roe v. Wade) would be increased pregnancy-associated violence; however, speculation is difficult to fact-check.
In the second part, @davenewworld_2 added:
Homicide is the number 1 cause of death for pregnant women. Boyfriends and husbands who don’t want to have a baby will take matters into their own hands.
Not only was the claim verifiable, it was also well documented over time. A November 2021 article in the journal Nature (“Homicide is a top cause of maternal death in the United States”) began with information gleaned in research obtained from across the entire United States:
Pregnant women in the United States die by homicide more often than they die of pregnancy-related causes — and they’re frequently killed by a partner, according to a study published last month in Obstetrics & Gynecology. Researchers revealed this grim statistic by using death certificates to compare homicides and pregnancy-related deaths across the entire country for the first time.
Although smaller studies have tracked homicides during pregnancy at the state and local level, confirming the scope of the phenomenon on a national scale is valuable, says Vijay Singh, a physician at the University of Michigan Medical School in Ann Arbor, who studies how health-care workers can monitor abuse by current and former romantic partners. “You can’t understand a problem unless you can measure it.”
The study results, he adds, are “stunning”.
The researchers found that US women who are pregnant or were pregnant in the past 42 days (the post-partum period) die by homicide at more than twice the rate that they die of bleeding or placental disorders — the leading causes of what are usually classified as pregnancy-related deaths. Also, becoming pregnant increases the risk of death by homicide: between the ages of 10 and 44 years, women who are pregnant or had their pregnancy end in the past year are killed at a rate 16% higher than are women who are not pregnant.
As the excerpted summary explained, American women were far higher — in fact, twice as likely — to die of homicide than they were any condition related to pregnancy or childbirth. The quoted portion also observed that pregnant and recently pregnant women were murdered at higher rates than women who were not pregnant or recently pregnant.
A December 2021 Insider.com piece about the same research added that “[some] experts fear that restricting abortion access could further endanger vulnerable women.” That coverage began with references to cases in which pregnant women were murdered:
In late November , Shaterica Anderson, a pregnant 28-year-old from Texas, was shot to death by her longtime boyfriend on their son’s fourth birthday.
He shot her in the head four times and left her body in her home with their five children. He has now been charged with her murder.
Days later, the body of Andreae Lloyd, a 27-year-old pregnant woman from Miami-Dade, was found in a woodland area. Her boyfriend confessed to killing her.
Pregnant Brittani Duffy, 27, in New York was also killed by her boyfriend weeks before.
Before that national study was published, an abstract of research published in February 2021 in the Journal of Women’s Health explained:
The leading causes of pregnancy-associated deaths, as defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, are homicide, suicide, and drug overdose. Intimate partner violence during pregnancy has been shown to contribute to maternal mortality from pregnancy-associated deaths. In this article, we discuss these leading causes of pregnancy-associated deaths. We review the prevalence, demographic characteristics, and possible factors leading to each cause of death, as well as evidence-based methods of identification, prevention, and intervention. The review also will include data showing racial and ethnic inequities. In addition, we identify gaps and guiding questions for further research, as well as suggestions for immediate changes in practice and policy.
Later in the research, authors indicated that homicide was not newly a primary cause of death for pregnant American women, and in fact it has been a problem for a very long time:
Over the past 15 years, research has supported homicide as a leading cause of pregnancy-associated deaths in the United States. One of the few national studies was a CDC analysis of the Pregnancy Mortality Surveillance System, which links death certificate information with vital records between 1991 and 1999. The study documented that pregnancy-associated homicides made up 8.4% of reported maternal mortality deaths from all causes, with a rate of 1.7 per 100,000 live births. African American women had approximately seven times the risk of homicide as white women, and women age 19 or younger were at higher risk than those aged 30 or older, with almost 55% of the deaths caused by guns. A more recent (2005–2020) study estimated homicide rates among pregnant or postpartum women from death certificates in 37 states with enhanced pregnancy mortality surveillance. The pregnancy-associated homicide rate was 2.2 to 6.2 per 100,000 live births, compared with 2.5 to 2.6 per 100,000 for non-pregnant and non-postpartum women.
WebMD published an article titled “No. 1 Cause of Death in Pregnant Women: Murder.” It was dated March 2001, and reported on a then recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association:
Given all the risks associated with pregnancy, it’s easy to imagine that expectant mothers are vulnerable to illnesses and even to death. But shocking new information shows that these women actually are more likely to be murdered than to die from any complications of pregnancy — or from any other cause for that matter.
“We found that homicide was the leading cause of death among women who were pregnant … and accounted for 20% of deaths among that group, compared with 6% of deaths among nonpregnant women of reproductive age,” says author Isabelle Horon, DrPH, from the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, who conducted a study that looked at pregnancy-associated deaths from 1993 to 1998.
A viral June 27 2022 tweet asserted that the number one cause of death in pregnant women in the United States was homicide, not medical causes related to pregnancy or childbirth. Research published in late 2021 affirmed that was the case across the United States. However, research published in 2001 also cited homicide as the primary cause of death in pregnant women, typically at the hands of violent partners.