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Amid increase in pregnancy-related deaths, Texas House votes to save maternal mortality task force

Dallas Morning NewsAugust 1, 2017Articles

AUSTIN — The House unanimously gave initial approval Monday to four similar bills that would continue the state’s Maternal Mortality and Morbidity Task Force until 2023.

The task force’s work is critical, proponents of the measures said, considering that Texas’ maternal death rate has skyrocketed in recent years.

“HB 9 directs the Heath and Human Services Commission to evaluate options for addressing the top causes of maternal mortality,” said Rep. Cindy Burkett, R-Sunnyvale, the author of House Bill 9. The Senate passed a bill identical to Burkett’s last week.

Between 2010 and 2014, Texas’ maternal mortality rate doubled from 18.6 deaths to 35.8 deaths per 100,000 live births — the highest rate in the developed world.

Rep. Shawn Thierry, D-Houston, told the chamber about how she almost died during her pregnancy in 2012. Thierry said her bill, House Bill 11, would not only continue the task force, but would also “redirect the task force, give them more specific directions to help them drill down on the data.”
“How boastful can we feel,” Thierry asked, “when we know Texas is now the most dangerous place to give birth in the developed world?”

The rate of maternal death in Texas has skyrocketed as the Legislature has cut funding for women’s heath care during the last decade. And after lawmakers took steps in 2013 to defund Planned Parenthood — a nonprofit that provides cancer screenings, pregnancy tests, birth control, sex education and abortion services — thousands fewer Texas women are getting heath services from the state, according to a report from the Health and Human Services Commission.

African-American women in Texas are more than twice as likely as white women to die within a year of pregnancy, according to a 2016 report from the task force. The report concluded that heart attacks, drug overdoses and hypersensitive disorders cause a majority of the state’s maternal deaths. It identifies an underlying culprit for the alarmingly high death rate: lack of access to health care. Texas has the highest rate of residents without heath insurance in the nation.

During the regular legislative session that ended in May, the House Freedom Caucus thwarted a bill aimed at keeping alive the task force. Members of the group of conservative lawmakers said killing the bill was part of an effort to punish House leadership for neglecting their priority legislation.

Theirry almost choked up Monday as she discussed her bill.

“My grandmother was born in 1920, and she used to tell me that when a woman gives birth, it’s the closest she’ll ever get to death. … Here we are, a century in Texas and her prophecy is almost true,” she said.

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