Photo via Alan Kotok/Flickr (CC-BY)
The state legislature ignored the problem, instead focusing on restricting abortion—which may be furthering the crisis.
The Texas Legislature has officially closed session until 2019, but legislators failed to address a major problem devastating the state: pregnancy deaths.
A University of Maryland study revealed that Texas’s maternal mortality rate doubled from 2010 to 2012, making it the highest both in the United States as well as the entire developed world. But legislators passed on the opportunity to even vote on anti-pregnancy death measures, instead focusing on an anti-abortion bill that would outlaw dilation and evacuation procedures and force women who’ve had an abortion to bury the fetus, as well anti-LGBTQ bills and amendments targeting queer families and trans students.
“We had a chance to move the needle and we really failed to do so,” state Republican Sen. Lois Kolkhort told the AP. “Certainly, as we develop in medicine, we can do better to take care of women in today’s society versus past societies. I’m very disappointed.”
Kolkhort wanted the legislature to extend the maternal mortality task force to 2023, giving the committee room to study the causes leading to post-pregnancy fatalities. Instead, the task force will end in 2019. Kolkhort is particularly concerned that legislators don’t know the cause of the deaths, just that they’re particularly high. That means the state will have another two years of high deaths that could have been prevented.
“Is it hemorrhaging, is it post-partum depression, is it aftercare?” Kolkhort asked. “Are there things we could do pre-birth that would help with post-birth?” Currently, Texas doesn’t know.
Measures were introduced in the Texas Legislature, but simply killed due to political positioning. Texas Rep. Shawn Thierry (D) found that black women made for 11 percent of the state’s births, but 28 percent of deaths. She hoped to explore the experiences of black women across socioeconomic classes in order to understand whether lower-income black women are receiving the support they need. But a bill by Thierry was killed by Tea Party lawmakers in order to push their own agenda.
More than anything else, critics blame the state’s strict abortion laws, which have caused women’s healthcare clinics, where abortions are also performed, to close. Treatments that could have prevented pregnancy complications and deaths may have been administered and monitored if these clinics were still open.
“When you do things like making access to abortions almost impossible, the impact that’s going to have on our states most vulnerable population is worse and worse,” Marsha Jones, the executive director for the reproductive justice program Afiya Center, told the AP.