Gov. Greg Abbott and the Texas Legislature are in charge of our state’s pro-opportunity brand, which attracts talent from all over the world. They’re supposed to burnish it, never tarnish it, and leave it shining brighter for future generations.
Instead, lawmakers seem content to allow the Texas brand to be tainted with tragedy. Complacency about preventable deaths should have no place in a land of opportunity. Yet if it were a country, Texas would have the highest maternal morbidity rate in the developed world.
The Maternal Mortality and Morbidity task force, created by the 83rd Legislature, issued recommendations last year to help make Texas mothers safer. Unfortunately, the highly credentialed task force members might as well be howling in the fetid Texas political wind.
The task force suggested that lawmakers increase mothers’ access to health services during the year after delivery and the period between pregnancies to reduce the leading causes of maternal death: cardiac events, overdose by legal or illicit drugs and hypertension disorders.
Instead, Texas lawmakers seem perversely intent on decreasing access. In 2014, Medicaid covered the cost of 54 percent of births in the state, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation report. Yet the Legislature’s new budget significantly underfunds Medicaid. State legislators have been systematically defunding and hamstringing Planned Parenthood for years. Dozens of women’s health clinics have closed.
Sixty thousand fewer women are enrolled in the state’s Women’s Health Program than were enrolled in 2011, before Planned Parenthood was excluded, as cited in The New Yorker. Texas ranks high in the percentage of women who have not seen a doctor due to cost, according to the Texas Women’s Healthcare Coalition. We could go on.
To its credit, the Legislature did pass a bill this session that addressed maternal mortality by improving access to postpartum depression screenings. However, lawmakers failed to pass a bill ensuring the extension of the task force beyond 2019.
This act of disregard for the safety of mothers was too much, even for the Legislature. In the special session, both the House and Senate have approved versions of a bill that would give the task force headed by Dr. Lisa Hollier, a professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology and director of the Division of Women’s Health Policy at Baylor College of Medicine, more time to study why so many Texas women are dying less than a year after childbirth.
Even though the root causes are largely known, the task force will serve a useful purpose as it will assist in the careful counting of maternal deaths and investigation of each one to learn what could have been done differently. A final version of the bill to extend the task force should be unanimously approved.
However, the passage of this bill will only be a solution if our state policymakers are committed to taking action on the recommendations that the task force develops.
Otherwise, doctors like Hollier will continue to have to tell too many husbands the worst news on what’s supposed to be the happiest day of their lives.
“There’s this look on his face. He’s just so lost,” Hollier said about one husband whose pregnant wife had just died a preventable death, as reported by New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof.
Lawmakers need to get serious about keeping mothers safe, or all of Texas will lose.