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Opinion: Rural hospitals are closing labor and delivery services. Babies’ lives are in jeopardy

A hospital in Idaho recently announced it will shutter its labor and delivery services due to doctors’ unwillingness to practice medicine in the face of the state’s restrictive and punitive laws surrounding reproductive health care. This comes on the heels of a hospital in rural Washington state closing its labor and delivery services due to concerns over the cost of these services. CNN reported 13 hospitals ceased labor and delivery services in the past year.

The trend of rural hospitals shuttering perinatal services is not new. A February 2023 report from Chartis, a health care consulting firm, found that 217 labor and delivery units have closed across the nation since 2011. When these facilities close, the care of both pregnant people and their newborns must occur elsewhere. Recently, the National Vital Statistics System flagged an appalling and calamitous 38% increase in maternal mortality rates, just two weeks after the organization affirmed stagnant infant mortality rates these last few years. As a neonatologist, I worry about newborns’ access to pediatric and neonatal services at birth — and I fear the infant mortality rate will increase if this access continues to constrict.

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