Climate Change Linked to Premature Births and Poor Infant Health

Climate change is not typically something that energizes the so-called “Christian” right.

The single issue animating those who argue against women’s right to their own reproductive health is abortion.

But the climate crisis and anti-choice activists’ cries of “right to life” actually have something in common.

Recent studies published in a special issue of the journal Paediatric [sic] and Perinatal Epidemiology find a rapidly warming environment is associated with poor health in fetuses, babies, and infants.

Scientists also link global heating with babies’ rapid weight gain, which can cause life-long health problems, and premature births.

One of the study’s editors, Prof. Gregory Wellenius, explained:

“From the very beginning, from preconception, through early childhood into adolescence, we’re starting to see important impacts of climate hazards on health. This is a problem that affects everybody, everywhere. These extreme events are going to become even more likely and more severe with continued climate change [and this research shows] why they’re important to us, not in the future, but today.”

University of Sydney, Australia researcher Edward Jegasothy warned:

“The risk of [premature] birth is likely to increase with the expected increase in global temperatures and heatwaves–this is a potentially serious concern.”

On the rise is a rare condition known as “fetal gastroschisis,” which, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), is “a birth defect that occurs when a baby’s intestines extend outside of the body through a hole next to the belly button.”

Normally only about 2,00 cases a year, doctors are reporting increasing instances, believed to be linked to mothers living within 15 miles wildfires and air pollution.

Bo Young Park, Assistant Professor in California State University’s Public Health Department, stated:

“Human exposure to wildfires is anticipated to increase in coming decades. Therefore, a thorough understanding of the negative health outcomes associated with wildfires is critical.”

One study that analyzed 200,000 births in Harris County, Texas from 2007-2011, the state’s hottest summer on record, revealed 25 percent of expecting mothers exposed to at least one exceptionally hot day faced a 15-percent risk of any premature birth the following day.

The numbers tripled for babies born before 28 weeks and for 20 percent of economically disadvantaged mothers.

University of California, Los Angeles researcher Lara Cushing stated:

“Public health warnings during heatwaves should include pregnant people, especially given our finding of stronger associations earlier in gestation when the consequences of preterm birth are more severe.”

With a US Supreme Court on the apparent cusp of overturning 1973’s Roe versus Wade case that legalized abortion, we now must factor in the role the climate crisis plays in reproductive health inequities.

Climate change-fueled disasters disproportionally affect the economically disadvantaged as does anti-choice legislation, such as those Texas and other republican-led states are passing.

Outlawing abortion once again will not prevent abortions.

It will only criminalize it for the poor.

Women of means will have no problem traveling across state lines to receive abortions or other reproductive care anti-choice states prohibit.

Similarly, those of means can afford to escape the climate crisis’s ravages.

Image credit: Fabius Maximus

Ted Millar is writer and teacher. His work has been featured in myriad literary journals, including Better Than Starbucks, The Broke Bohemian, Straight Forward Poetry, Caesura, Circle Show, Cactus Heart, Third Wednesday, and The Voices Project. He is also a contributor to The Left Place blog on Substack, and Medium.