Texas must reduce maternal mortality rates

Laura Hallas

Texas has once again been dragged into the women’s health spotlight with its most dismal metric yet. According to a recent report, Texas mothers are dying at shockingly high rates — in fact, the highest rate in the U.S. But even amongst this widespread suffering, African-American women are bearing the brunt of the impact.

Maternal mortality refers to the death of a woman while pregnant or within 42 days of the end of pregnancy. Texas’ rate reflects poorly on the state of women’s health overall, as maternal mortality has doubled since 2010 to 18.6 deaths per 100,000 live births. While the U.S. on average has also seen increased maternal mortality in recent years, there is no excuse for Texas’ skyrocketing statistics. 

The infamous HB2 that shut down abortion and women’s health clinics and restricted funding for family planning is an easy target to blame, but many of these problems predate HB2. Yes, funding for family planning services and Planned Parenthood began decreasing around 2011, but other factors like drug overdose have also been on the rise — it  was the second leading cause of maternal death between 2011 and 2012. 

However, Texas’ maternal mortality problem has one major component that isn’t captured in overviews or statewide statistics — the women who are dying are largely African-American. From 2011 to 2012,
African-American women made up 28 percent of the maternal mortality rate, despite only accounting for 11 percent of births. As it addresses the larger maternal mortality issue, the Texas legislature owes its attention to the minority groups who are hurting the most. 

Racial discrepancies in health outcomes are not news. African-American mothers’ health inequities are well documented — they are two to six times more likely to die of pregnancy than white women, experience low birth weight attributed almost exclusively to the mother’s stress from interpersonal racism and face perceived discrimination within family planning systems. With these pre-existing conditions, it is unsurprising that Texas’ acute lack of maternal support in recent years has disproportionately impacted African-Americans.

Research groups such as the Texas Policy Evaluation Project and Healthy Texas Women have laid out evidence-based initiatives that could improve women’s health by increasing access to care earlier on in pregnancies and addressing the unequal distribution of services. But as of yet, these recommendations haven’t been translated into practice. The Texas 2013 legislative session led to the creation of a Maternal Mortality and Morbidity task force and while this is a good indication of intent to address women’s health in general, there should be more legislative discussion specifically focused on racial disparities. 

While Texas’ maternal morbidity and mortality rates reflected the need for improved healthcare across the board, disproportional impacts necessitate targeted protections. The factors that are killing African-American mothers are largely preventable, so let’s prevent them.

Hallas is a Plan II and health and society sophomore from Allen. Follow her on Twitter @LauraHallas.