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Study: Pregnant women more likely to die by homicide than by maternal illness

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New research published November 1, 2021, in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology has revealed that a leading cause of death among pregnant women is homicide. In fact, the study found that homicide during pregnancy “exceeded all the leading causes of maternal mortality.”

Using data from the National Center for Health Statistics 2018 and 2019 mortality files, researchers estimated the two-year pregnancy-associated homicide mortality ratios for females ages 10-44 compared to the homicide mortality ratios among non-pregnant and non-postpartum females as well as to mortality ratios for direct pregnancy-related causes of death. They found that there were 3.62 homicides per 100,000 live births among females who were pregnant or had given birth within one year. This rate is 16% higher than the homicide rate among non-pregnant and non-postpartum women of reproductive age, which saw 3.12 deaths per 100,000 live births in that time period.

The researchers concluded, “Homicide during pregnancy or within 42 days of the end of pregnancy exceeded all the leading causes of maternal mortality by more than twofold.” In addition, the risk of homicide was “significantly elevated” among pregnant Black women and among girls and younger women ages 10 to 24 across racial and ethnic subgroups.

READ: Man sentenced to life in prison for killing preborn child

The research also confirmed the belief that pregnant women are being murdered by their partners. During pregnancy and shortly after giving birth, women are much more vulnerable to becoming victims of domestic violence. According to the Family Violence Prevention Fund, women are more likely to die by homicide while pregnant at the hands of their partner than to die by any other cause.

Homicide has long been considered a leading cause of injury-related death among pregnant women, but until 2003, the United States didn’t require death certificates to include information on whether or not the person who had died was pregnant at the time or had recently given birth. This lack of data meant it was previously impossible to know how many pregnant women were dying by homicide.

According to Social Work Today, risk factors for homicide by a partner during pregnancy include the women’s attempt to end the relationship, the abuser’s lack of employment and lack of education, a previous assault with no police arrest, and a child in the home who is not the partner’s biological child. Drug use and access to firearms are also factors.

In some instances, the woman or her preborn baby may be targeted by the partner/father if she refuses to have an abortion as he wishes. This was the case for 17-year-old Breana Rouhselang, who was murdered by her baby’s father Aaron Trejo when she was six months pregnant because she waited too long to tell him about the pregnancy to get an abortion. Therefore he said, “I took action… I took her life.”

Tassila Kenha, 24, was also murdered by her boyfriend after she refused an abortion. And 35-year-old Jennifer Irigoyen and her preborn child were murdered by the baby’s father as her neighbors heard her scream, “He’s going to kill the baby.”

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