On Wednesday Senator Ted Cruz tweeted that “pregnancy is not a life-threatening illness, and the abortion pill does not cure or prevent any disease.” Cruz, along with 20 other Republican senators, is currently urging the FDA to ban the pill mifepristone which helps induce abortion. But no matter if a pregnancy is planned or unplanned, Cruz’s claim was factually incorrect: pregnancy is a life-threatening condition.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Protection, the maternal mortality rate in the U.S. in 2018 was 17.4 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births. According to the World Health Organization, every day in 2017 approximately 810 women died worldwide from complications due to pregnancy and childbirth, including severe bleeding, infections, and complications from delivery, among others. And if you were to compare the U.S.’s mortality rate against other countries using the WHO’s data, Vox reports, the U.S. would rank 55th.
The life-threatening side effects and complications people face before, during, and after pregnancies aren’t a rarity. The leading cause of maternal mortality is postpartum hemorrhage, excessive bleeding which can be deathly if not treated properly. Another leading cause of maternal death is pre-eclampsia during or following pregnancy, which if untreated can lead to “seizures, strokes, blood clots, excess fluid in the lungs and permanent damage to the brain, kidneys and liver,” the New York Times reports.
In pregnancy, people face sepsis, pulmonary embolisms, strokes, and heart failure. And the likelihood that a person will die in childbirth increases if a woman isn’t white; the risk of a Black woman dying due to pregnancy is three to four times higher than that of a white woman. “There’s this misconception that these complications are rare,” Kirsten Terlizzi, whose life-threatening placenta condition demanded she remove her uterus, appendix, and part of her bladder, told ProPublica in 2017. “and we [women] get brushed off — ‘The risk is not a big deal.’ But it is.”
While Cruz frames the abortion pill as something that endangers women, cutting off access to it only forces people to seek out actually fatal alternatives. The WHO estimates that each year about four to 3 percent of maternal deaths can be attributed to unsafe abortion. The only thing life-threatening about the abortion pill is restricting it.