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Texas Lawmakers Fail to Address Spike In Pregnancy-Related Deaths

The Rotunda of the Texas State Capitol in Austin.

The Rotunda of the Texas State Capitol in Austin. Shutterstock


Connecting state and local government leaders

Several bills that would have taken action to study or mitigate the crisis were killed as a result of partisan infighting.

Another biennial legislative session in Texas has come and gone, and state lawmakers have failed to take significant action to address a frightening trend: Women in the nation’s second most-populous state are dying of pregnancy-related issues at a higher rate than the rest of the nation—higher even than the rest of the developed world.

In 2010, there were 18.6 deaths per 100,000 live births in Texas. By 2014, that rate had doubled, according to a study published in September of last year in the Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology.

The figures are even more alarming for women of color. A state task force formed in 2013 to study the issue found that while only 11.4 percent of births in the state from 2011-2012 were to black women, they accounted for 28.8 percent of all the maternal deaths.

The very existence of that task force proved controversial during this legislative session. State Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, a Republican, introduced a bill that would have extended the task force’s mandate to 2023, beyond its current expiration date of 2019. That measure failed.

"We had a chance to move the needle and we really failed to do so," Kolkhorst told the Associated Press. "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."

And, at least two measures died as a result of political gamesmanship on the part of Republican lawmakers. Just ahead of Mother’s Day weekend, the Texas House Freedom Caucus used a parliamentary maneuver to kill dozens of bills including one measure introduced by State Rep. Shaw Thierry, that if passed, would have guided the Maternal Mortality and Morbidity Task Force to delve further into research on the deaths of black mothers, and another bill which would have connected first-time pregnant women enrolled in Medicaid to additional services.

In the lead-up to that maneuver, caucus members had announced they were taking the action to punish House leaders for obstruction of anti-abortion, Second Amendment and property rights bills.

Because the Texas legislature only meets in regular session during odd-numbered years, lawmakers may have to wait until January 2019 before they get a second chance at reversing this deadly trend.

Quinn Libson is a Staff Correspondent for Government Executive’s Route Fifty, and is based in Washington, D.C.

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