Texas lawmakers, advocates push for more data on pregnancy and childbirth complications
A state report detailing how many Texans die from pregnancy or childbirth is now more than two months delayed and may not be available before the 2023 legislative session.
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Significant health issues related to pregnancy or childbirth have increased in Texas in recent years, with Black women continuing to outpace all other groups, according to data obtained by state Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin.
This data offers a preliminary snapshot of the state of maternal mortality and morbidity in Texas, two months after the state failed to publish a statutorily required report on the subject.
The state data Howard obtained is separate from that included in the upcoming report. It looks specifically at the impact of a program intended to reduce postpartum hemorrhage deaths. All groups saw improvements except Black women, who actually saw a 3.3% increase in significant health complications related to hemorrhage between 2016 and 2020.
Howard said Tuesday that this snippet of information shows the need for the whole picture.
“It’s clear that without additional data findings and recommendations, such as those that will be provided by the maternal mortality and morbidity report, the Legislature and other stakeholders in this space will not have the tools that we need to address and implement change,” Howard said.
Lawmakers and advocates gathered at the state capitol on Día de los Muertos to call on state officials to release the full report. They set up an altar with marigolds, candles, decorative skulls and empty frames, meant to honor the unknown number of Texans who have died from pregnancy or childbirth complications.
“When we bury data, we are dishonorably burying each and every woman that we lost,” Nakeenya Wilson, an organizer for the Austin-based Maternal Health Equity Collaborative, said Tuesday. “No person should have to face death to bring life into this world.”
Wilson is also a member of the state’s Maternal Mortality and Morbidity Review Committee, which was formed in 2013 to help Texas reduce the number of deaths related to pregnancy and childbirth. The task force reviews maternal deaths and publishes a report offering analysis and recommendations.
Wilson said members of the committee were as surprised as anyone to learn that the report would not be released in early September. Dr. John Hellerstedt, commissioner of the Department of State Health Services, said at the time it was delayed due to incomplete data from 2019 and would not be released until next summer.
Hellerstedt retired soon after. His interim successor, Dr. Jennifer Shuford, said last week that her intention was to provide the data and recommendations in time for the Texas legislative session, which begins in January. She did not address when the full report would be released.
Howard said Tuesday that Hellerstedt had encouraged her to continue to push for the report to be published, as well as to request the hemorrhage data. Hellerstedt did not respond to a request for comment for this story.
At Tuesday’s rally, Deneen Robinson, a state policy strategist with the National Birth Equity Collaborative, claimed it was Gov. Greg Abbott’s decision to delay the report until after the midterm elections.
“It was strategic that the report was not released before the midterm,” Robinson said. “Because one of the things that is consistent across every group of folks: Nobody wants moms to die.”
A spokesperson for the governor directed questions to DSHS. Chris Van Deusen, a spokesperson for DSHS, said it was Hellerstedt’s decision to hold the report. In September, Van Deusen told The Texas Tribune that the delay had “nothing to do with the elections.”
Wilson said she and other members of the committee didn’t have additional information on who decided to delay the report.
“But I know who can make the call [to release the report] now,” Wilson said. “Our governor is the executive decision-maker in our state, so I am asking him to make the executive decision.”
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