Gov. Greg Abbott signed a bill on Wednesday giving a state task force more time to study why an alarming number of Texas mothers are dying less than a year after childbirth — and how to curb the deaths. 

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 or high blood pressure. 

Abbott said in a news release that he is "committed to doing everything we can to combat the maternal mortality rate in this state."

"Now that the task force can continue its work,Texas will be equipped with the most accurate information to help ensure the safety of Texas women," Abbott said. 

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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 said extending the group would allow them more time to examine cause of deaths among Texas mothers and make better recommendations.

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.

Abbott's signature on the bill came a day after the end of a special session of the Legislature.

A bill during the regular session that would have extended the Task Force on Maternal Mortality and Morbidity did not pass.

In June, Abbott signed a bill allowing mothers to get postpartum depression screenings and counseling when taking their babies for checkups through Medicaid or the Children's Health Insurance Program. He also signed a bill requiring the Department of State Health Services to publish best practices and protocol for reporting pregnancy related deaths. A budget amendment also made it through that requires the Department of State Health Services to electronically show in real-time whether a woman was pregnant when she died or had given birth the year before.

Read related Tribune coverage:

  • Legislation that would extend the life of a state task force studying Texas’ high maternal morbidity rates was tentatively approved by the Texas House. [Full story]

  • Two recent studies have highlighted the increasing rate of maternal deaths in Texas, but researchers say they can't explain why it's happening. [Full story]

  • 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. [Full story]

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