At the March for Life today, so-called “pro-life” activists will undoubtedly celebrate the strides that have been made by the Trump administration on behalf of their anti-abortion cause. But if the movement is truly driven by the value of respecting the dignity of and preserving human life, they should reconsider celebrating Trump as their champion.
The president’s anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies are endangering the health of Latinos in the U.S.—and affecting the lives of pregnant women and their children.
Pregnancy is a time when women are particularly vulnerable to psychosocial stress, and epidemiologists have long used birth outcomes to understand the effect of acute stressors on a specific population. An increase in preterm births, the most common cause of infant morbidity and mortality worldwide, have been seen after certain devastating natural disasters and traumatic wars—and, according to a study published last year, after the 2016 presidential election.
The study, published in JAMA Open Network, examined the birth outcomes of Latina women in the U.S. in the nine months following the election, which also ended up being a time of heightened anti-immigrant rhetoric. It found that there was a significant increase in the number of premature babies born: an excess of nearly 1,000 births. When Trump painted large swaths of Latinos in the same color, often conflating ethnicity and illegality, it was echoed by negative health effects. Latina women—citizens, legal residents and undocumented immigrants—all felt the pain.
As a cardiologist caring for a mostly underserved population at a large public hospital in Chicago, I came upon this stunning study as I was researching whether there was a link between worsening of cardiac conditions I was seeing in my vulnerable Latino patients, and the stress they have been exposed to from anti-immigrant sentiment that has become prominent as part of the immigration discourse. Fear of deportation or worrying about the safety and security of loved ones is a common narrative preceding serious bouts of cardiac illness in many of my patients. Emerging data suggests that these health effects are likely being seen throughout the country.
According to a Pew Research poll, 55 percent of Latinos are worried that they or a loved one could be deported, a fear that is associated with increased depression and anxiety and poorer self-rated physical and mental health. It is well established that chronic stress can exacerbate pre-existing health conditions, and prolonged exposure to circulating stress hormones can put individuals at higher risk of developing potentially fatal conditions such as heart attacks and stroke.
Even when they are sick, Latinos who feel targeted by ant-immigrant rhetoric and policies are reluctant to access healthcare services, potentially leading easily treated ailments to worsen into more complicated conditions. Health systems and clinics throughout the U.S. have reported significantly increased no-show rates and appointment cancellations for their immigrant patient population since the 2016 presidential elections.
This trend has particular ramifications to fetal health and birth outcomes, since vulnerable Latina women are less likely to access prenatal care. A large study of nearly 25,000 births in Texas found that when anti-immigrant rhetoric was heightened during the 2016 presidential campaign, pregnant Latina women sought prenatal care later and less often.
This trend should be of particular concern to “pro-life” supporters, since it is well established that lack of prenatal care adversely affects fetal health and birth outcomes. With harrowing stories such as those of infants being separated from their mothers and ICE detaining a disabled child en route for emergency surgery, some immigrant women may perceive foregoing prenatal care as being the safer option.
The health effects of stress will also impact babies once they’re born, and can be particularly profound in children. Latino adolescents report feeling increased fear, anger and anxiety since Trump was elected; one study of U.S. born Latino youths with at least one immigrant parent found that worry about immigration rhetoric and policy resulted in elevated anxiety levels, sleep problems and blood pressure change, and that children reported significantly increased anxiety levels after the 2016 presidential elections.
These physical and mental health effects will follow them well into adulthood. Existing data suggests that children in mixed status households are particularly vulnerable—and considering the fact that one out of four children in America have at least one immigrant parent, and 80 percent of these children are U.S. citizens, the negative health impact of Trump’s anti-immigrant legacy is likely to affect Americans for decades to come.
If the “pro-life” movement is truly “pro-child” and “pro-family,” its supporters should no longer tolerate, let alone support, the president’s anti-immigrant stance. Certainly, there are those who may argue that they support him not because of but despite his harmful rhetoric, citing the numerous advances he has made to restrict access to abortions.
If the appointment of conservative judges and the defunding Planned Parenthood matter more to abortion opponents than the harm that is being caused to Latino families and children by the words and actions of the president, it is time for them to relinquish their cherished moniker of “pro-life.”