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Texas House votes to extend life of maternal mortality task force

Legislation that would extend the life of a state task force studying Texas’ high maternal morbidity rates is headed to Gov. Greg Abbott's desk.

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Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect that the Senate approved the House's amended version of Senate Bill 17.

Legislation that would extend the life of a state task force studying Texas’ high maternal morbidity rates was tentatively approved by the Texas House late Sunday night. 

Under Senate Bill 17, the state’s Task Force on Maternal Mortality and Morbidity would continue its work until 2023. The task force, launched by the Legislature in 2013, found that between 2011 and 2012, 189 Texas mothers died less than a year after their pregnancies ended, mostly from heart disease, drug overdoses and high blood pressure.

In August, a study in the medical journal Obstetrics and Gynecology showed that Texas’ maternal mortality rates had nearly doubled between 2010 and 2014. Task force members and public health advocates have urged state legislators to allow the committee more time to review each mother’s death.

SB 17 also charges the task force with studying what other states are doing to curb their maternal death rates, looking at the health disparities and socioeconomic status of the mothers dying in Texas and finding solutions to help women with postpartum depression. The task force would be required to study how the state can develop a Maternal Health and Safety Initiative to share more information with health care providers on best practices and procedures for safely caring for pregnant women.

“This bill will impact all women in the state of Texas when it comes to their maternal morbidity and mortality,” said Cindy Burkett, R-Sunnyvale, one of the House sponsors. 

In a voice vote, the House passed the bill with several amendments, including one from Burkett that would allow the task force to conduct closed meetings but also allow them to seek public comment during at least one public meeting per year. Another, from state Rep. Lina Ortega, D-El Paso, adds a labor and delivery nurse and critical-care doctor to the task force.

Task force legislation didn’t pass during the regular session, but the issue was resurrected when Gov. Greg Abbott added it to the list of priorities he said he wanted lawmakers to consider during the July-August special session.

The bill needs final approval from the House before it can go back to the Senate to concur on amendments before it can be considered by the governor. (Update, Aug. 15: The Senate on Tuesday evening approved the House-amended SB 17 in a unanimous vote. It now goes to the governor's office.) 

Both chambers considered a slew of other health care-related measures late Sunday evening:

  • In a 122-20 vote, the House gave final approval to a bill that would force physicians to take certain steps before issuing do-not-resuscitate orders to patients. The bill ensures that a patient or the patient’s legal guardian gives consent before a doctor issues a do-not-resuscitate order.
  • The Senate voted 20-10 to finally approve House Bill 214, which would require Texas women to pay a separate health insurance premiums to get coverage for non-emergency abortions — what one opponent dubbed "rape insurance,” and what proponents said would relieve people who don't approve of abortion from contributing to insurance coverage of the procedures. The measure does not contain exceptions for instances of fetal abnormalities, rape or incest.
  • In a 22-9 vote, the Senate tentatively approved requiring doctors performing abortions on minors to report additional information to the state. (Update, Aug. 14: The Senate passed the bill on third reading, in a 22–9 vote.) Under House Bill 215, doctors would have to document how the mothers obtained authorization to get abortions. In a case of a judicial bypass, the report to the state would include whether the doctor or another advocate helped her through the process, and how. If she obtained parental consent, the doctor must report where that happened. And if a doctor performs an emergency abortion on a minor, the report must include whether there was time to obtain parental consent. The bill would also require doctors who perform third-trimester abortions because of fetal abnormalities to report the identified abnormalities to the state.

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