Texas legislators from both chambers passed bills on Tuesday aimed at helping mothers before and after they give birth. 

In the Senate, they passed House Bill 2466, which would give low-income mothers in the state's Medicaid program access to postpartum depression screenings and referrals to mental health providers for counseling. About 17 percent of Texas mothers experience postpartum depression, according to a 2016 report from the Texas Health and Human Services Commission and the Texas Department of State Health Services. 

House members, meanwhile, voted for Senate Bill 1929, which keeps a state task force in operation that reviews pregnancy-related deaths, and expands its purview to consider disparities in mortality and morbidity rates. Texas women die at far higher than average rates less than a year after birth — numbers that are even more pronounced among black women. 

Texas' alarming maternal mortality rate — outlined in recent news articles, studies and a project by the investigative site ProPublica — has been overshadowed this legislative session by state leaders' top priorities, including the "bathroom bill," child welfare, property taxes, voter ID and "sanctuary" cities. 

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In August, the medical journal Obstetrics and Gynecology published a study that found Texas’ maternal mortality rate had nearly doubled between 2010 and 2014.

The state's Task Force on Maternal Mortality and Morbidity — the one referenced in SB 1929 — reported in July that between 2011 and 2012, 189 Texas mothers died within a year of giving birth. That report found causes included heart disease, drug overdoses and high blood pressure. Task force members also called attention to mental health problems and substance abuse, including depression and prescription opioid overdoses.

The task force has recommended increasing mental and behavioral health screenings, improving access to health services for women in the first year after their pregnancy, providing more education for women at higher risk of death from childbirth, and better streamlining how the state tracks and reports maternal deaths. 

Under SB 1929, the Texas Health and Human Services Commission would be directed to propose solutions around the task force's findings and file a report on what the agency is doing to reduce maternal deaths and help low-income women receive postpartum depression services. The agency would also be required to seek federal funding to help provide postpartum screening and treatment. 

Read related Tribune coverage:

  • Ahead of Mother's Day weekend, the Texas House’s self-labeled Freedom Caucus killed two bills aimed at helping the state curb its alarming rise in mothers dying less than a year after childbirth, along with more than 100 other measures.
  • Public health advocates want a state task force focused on Texas' rising maternal mortality rates to study how race, bias, prejudice and socioeconomics affect care for pregnant black women — who are disproportionately affected.
  • House Public Health Committee members heard testimony on three measures — House Bill 2466, House Bill 2604 and House Bill 2135 — that would aim to increase access to postpartum depression screenings and treatment for mothers.
  • Texas’ maternal deaths have been sparingly mentioned during the legislative session, overshadowed by issues such as child welfare, the so-called “bathroom bill” and sanctuary cities. 
  • Two studies have highlighted the increasing rate of maternal deaths in Texas, but researchers say they can't explain why it's happening. 

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