Pregnant But Hours From a Hospital? A Push to Examine Rural Maternal Health

A woman receives an ultrasound.

A woman receives an ultrasound. Pressmaster/Shutterstock

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STATE AND LOCAL ROUNDUP | California allows religious symbols on doors … Republicans in Connecticut ask health commissioner not to weigh in on vaccines … Chicago Mayor calls for interstate gun loopholes to close.

U.S. Senators from states with large rural populations are pushing a bipartisan bill to research maternal mortality rates in rural America and develop solutions to improve care for pregnant women who live far from hospitals. The Rural MOMS Act would direct the Centers for Disease Control to investigate rural maternal mortality, award grants to regional networks working on birth outcomes in rural areas, expand grants to telehealth programs for birth and postpartum services, allow federal funds to be used to buy ultrasound machines and fetal monitoring equipment, and support training for obstetricians, nurse practitioners, and midwives in rural settings. Senator Doug Jones of Alabama introduced the legislation. “As I’ve traveled around Alabama to hear directly from women and health care providers about how we can improve maternal health outcomes in the state, they consistently raise concerns about the shortages of doctors and hospitals in rural areas. This legislation provides real address our unacceptable rate of maternal mortality in this country,” he said. Jones has been joined by Sens. Tina Smith of Minnesota, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, and Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia. Smith said that she was motivated to co-sponsor because too many women live too far from hospitals to get proper birthing care. “Some people are driving hours—even in dangerous conditions like Minnesota blizzards—just to get to a hospital. We should support moms during this critical time in their lives by fixing this problem,” she said. In Alaska, Murkowski said that the lack of proper roads is a significant barrier for pregnant women seeking care. “Studies have shown babies of mothers who have to travel more than an hour to give birth are more likely to require intensive care or die in the first year of their life. This is a startling statistic for a state like Alaska where more than 80% of our communities are not connected by the road system. As one of the most developed nations in the world, these rates are unacceptable,” Murkowski said. [Alabama Political Reporter; WVVA; mHealth Intelligence]

RELIGIOUS SYMBOLS | California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into law a bill that allows people to display religious symbols on the front doors of their homes. The bill grew out of complaints from renters and homeowners around the state that their landlords and local homeowners associations were setting rules prohibiting the display of religious iconography outside the house. The bill was supported by multiple religious groups, including the Hindu American Foundation and the California Jewish Legislative Caucus; Hindus often place a toran on their doors, and Jewish people often place a mezuzah. “We commend the state legislature for unanimously passing SB 652, which creates a safe environment for members of all religious communities, including Hindus, to practice and express their religion freely and peacefully without interference,” said Easan Katir, California advocacy director of the Hindu American Foundation. “Part of living in a diverse, multicultural society is having awareness, and sensitivity, to other people’s beliefs,” said state Sen. Ben Allen, who sponsored the legislation. Five other states, including Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Rhode Island, and Texas, have already enacted similar laws. [India West; Jewish Journal; Jewish Telegraphic Agency]

VACCINE EXEMPTIONS | Republican lawmakers in Connecticut are urging the state’s new health commissioner not to make a statement regarding the ongoing effort to repeal the state’s religious exemption to vaccines. Democratic lawmakers, who are in favor of the repeal, have asked Commissioner Renee Coleman-Mitchell to weigh in. But Republicans say the matter is not a question of health, but of civil rights. “We believe it is wholly inappropriate for the legislators to be seeking your opinion regarding the elimination of the religious exemption in Connecticut. That is a question of constitutional and civil rights law. It is not the charge of your agency to offer opinions on civil rights issues; the state has other agencies that are responsible for those matters. Therefore, we implore you to refrain from offering any opinion on the elimination of the religious exemption,” wrote five Republicans legislators in a letter for Coleman-Mitchell. A spokesperson for the commissioner said that she is reviewing the letter, and the request from Democratic lawmakers for her opinion, and has no comment yet. Senate President Pro Tempore Martin Looney, a Democrat who requested the commissioner’s input, said that the Republican letter was “shocking and irresponsible,” and argued that the health department has already conducted research on vaccine rates in schools, meaning they have the ability to comment further. “Vaccination rates in our public schools are first, last, and foremost a matter of public health. Reason and logic dictate that the Commissioner of the Department of Public Health advise our state on issues involving public health,” Looney said. [CT Mirror; NBC Connecticut

INTERSTATE GUN LAWS | In light of the two mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton this week, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot is calling attention to patchy interstate gun loopholes, which she said contribute heavily to the gun violence in her city. Several days ago marked the most violent weekend of the year in Chicago, during which seven people were killed and more than 50 people were injured in gun-related incidents. Lightfoot argued President Trump and Congress need to sew up patchy state-by-state laws that allow people from Chicago, where there are strict gun laws in place, to travel to neighboring Indiana, which has more lax gun laws, to purchase firearms there and bring them back into the city. "If the president weighs in, if he shows these Republicans that they can actually have courage, we can get this done. We are very different in Illinois than we are in Indiana and we're neighbors. Same thing with Wisconsin and Michigan. That's why we need the federal government to step up and do its job to fill these voids," Lightfoot said. Chicago Police Department Chief Communications Officer Anthony Gugliemi tweeted audio of a shooting on the city’s west side, saying “[This] is the sound that Chicago needs to change its ways on how we handle gun offenders…[this] shows that criminals have no deterrent to carrying illegal guns in our city and this is what residents and police are up against.” [Chicago Sun-Times; NBC Chicago; Newsweek]

AIR FORCE CONTAMINATION | New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham says the EPA  has failed to protect public health and the environment by not helping the state with its lawsuit against the U.S. Air Force. Grisham made the case in a letter she sent to EPA administrator Andrew Wheeler on Friday. Her letter comes after months of a stalled legal battle between the Air Force and New Mexico; the state sued the Air Force in March over contamination at two of its military bases, claiming that the federal government is responsible for cleaning up toxic chemicals left behind by firefighting exercises. "I am extremely frustrated that the Air Force has not been responsive to protecting the health and safety of New Mexican families by addressing years of environmental pollution," said New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas. The Air Force has said that they are providing alternative water sources to people where firefighting activities contaminated water, and working with regulators to identify long-term solutions to prevent residents from being exposed to toxic chemicals. The New Mexico Environment Department says the changes are not happening quickly enough, given the drought in the state and the lack of sustainable alternative water sources in the long-term. [Santa Fe New Mexican; Air Force Times; Associated Press]

Emma Coleman is the assistant editor for Route Fifty. 

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