Skyrocketing maternal deaths in Texas set to get special focus from lawmakers

FILE - Pregnant woman and her doctor (KXAN File Photo)
FILE - Pregnant woman and her doctor (KXAN File Photo)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Mothers are dying after they give birth in Texas more than any other place in the industrialized world according to doctors in the state.

Lawmakers did not successfully pass a bill continuing a task force to tackle the issue. Tuesday, Gov. Greg Abbott laid out a long list of agenda items lawmakers must take up during the special legislative session in July.

According to the Department of State Health Services, African-American mothers die in much greater numbers than women of other races, especially since 2010. Now lawmakers are looking to continue the 15 person task force to come up with solutions.

Dr. Kimberly Carter has been an OBGYN since 1998 and says the state’s task force has completed step one: knowing what kills these mothers.

“We are the worst in the entire developed world.” said Dr. Carter. “We should be embarrassed by our statistics and we should want better statistics. It matters to have a mother. It matters a lot.”

The leading causes are cardiac events from diabetes, obesity and hypertension, hitting the African-American community harder. But what’s new is the second leading cause of death: overdoses and mental health issues.

Rep. Shawn Thierry, D-Houston, called on the governor to add it to the special session agenda hoping to find specific solutions to help women. She teamed up with State Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, who sponsored the bill in the Senate, to write a letter to the governor asking this issue to be added to the agenda. Rep. Thierry filed the original bill in the Texas House in the regular legislative session that would continue the task force.

“Everyone is watching this because this is for all women. Not just African-Americans, or Caucasians, or Hispanics,” said Rep. Thierry.

She thinks the added time working will allow the experts to come up with specifics on what is causing the increased deaths. She says many deaths happen more than 60 days after birth, when low-income mothers lose access to state health insurance.

“To look at the socioeconomic status of these mothers that are dying, we have to do some kind of comparative analysis,” said Rep. Thierry.

“One of the really interesting thing they are doing is not just looking at the data, but looking at individual cases, they’ll be reviewing every single maternal death that occurs,” said Chris Van Deusen from the Department of State Health Services.

Gov. Abbott called the special session on 19 other issues as well. It begins July 18, for 30 days.

“The task force investigates and studies, pregnancy related deaths in Texas. Armed with information and insight, provided by the task force, our healthcare system can target better treatments for diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and postpartum depression. It can help us to address the leading causes of pregnancy related deaths. To protect women in Texas, I’m calling on the legislature to complete their work and to address the maternal mortality rate in Texas,” the governor said in his special session call on Tuesday.

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