The Mortality Effects of Antenatal Testing Laws
Winnie Fung, Wheaton College
Omar Robles, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)
Even though syphilis can be prevented effectively and treated inexpensively, it has remained a global public health problem. Many developing countries have recently instituted syphilis prevention programs in antenatal care, but there has not been a systematic study of the effects of such programs. This paper is the first to study antenatal testing laws initiated in the U.S. in 1938-1947 which mandated physicians attending to pregnant women to test them for syphilis. We use the variation in the timing of state antenatal testing laws to estimate the laws’ effect on neonatal mortality rates and deaths due to preterm birth. Using 1931-1947 NCHS Vital Statistics data, we find that these laws decreased neonatal mortality rates of nonwhites by 3.15 per 1,000 live births (a 8.6% reduction) while having no discernible impact on whites. The laws contributed to a narrowing of the white-nonwhite neonatal mortality gap by 18.0% by 1947.