Homicide leading cause of death for pregnant women in U.S.

October 21, 2022 – Women in the U.S. who are pregnant or who have recently given birth are more likely to be murdered than to die from obstetric causes—and these homicides are linked to a deadly mix of intimate partner violence and firearms, according to researchers from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Homicide deaths among pregnant women are more prevalent than deaths from hypertensive disorders, hemorrhage, or sepsis, wrote Rebecca Lawn, postdoctoral research fellow, and Karestan Koenen, professor of psychiatric epidemiology, in an October 19 editorial in the journal BMJ.

The U.S. has a higher prevalence of intimate partner violence than comparable countries, such violence is often fatal, and it frequently involves guns, Lawn and Koenen noted. They cited one study that found that, from 2009–2019, 68% of pregnancy-related homicides involved firearms. That study also found that Black women face substantially higher risk of being killed than white or Hispanic women.

Laws restricting women’s access to reproductive care and abortion can place women at further risk, since control over a woman’s reproductive choices often plays a role in intimate partner violence, Lawn said in an October 20 U.S. News & World Report article. Lenient firearms legislation can also increase the risk.

Koenen and Lawn called gun violence “a health emergency for pregnant women.” But they added that pregnancy-related homicides are preventable. When pregnant women have checkups, healthcare providers can identify those at risk of violence and try to help them, Lawn told CNN.

Read the U.S. News & World Report article: Homicide a Leading Cause of Death for Pregnant U.S. Women

Read the CNN article: With homicide a leading cause of maternal death, doctors urged to screen pregnant women for domestic violence