Lawmakers continue fight for women dying, barely surviving after childbirth

Investigations
maternal - Leah Bahrencu hospitalized

AUSTIN (KXAN) — A bill meant to strengthen the data gathered on mothers dying during childbirth and those barely surviving isn’t headed to the governor’s desk, but lawmakers were able to pass some measures aimed at improving the statewide public health issue.

House Bill 2703, filed by Rep. Shawn Thierry, D-Houston, cleared a Texas House Committee but never made it to the full chamber.

Thierry, who headed home late Tuesday, said she’s disappointed, but not deterred.

PAST COVERAGE: Registry tracking maternal deaths, near misses one step closer to reality

“I’ve said it in the 85th session, said it during the 86th Session, and will continue saying it in the 87th session, that whether you’re pro-women’s choice or right to life, when it comes to preventing maternal mortality, we should all be joining hands around this issue,” Thierry said. “I may be a little discouraged today, but I will never be too tired to lead the charge to improve women’s maternal health and birth outcomes.”

Her bill would have created a maternal mortality and morbidity data registry that more accurately tracks pregnancy outcomes. Thierry said health care providers would submit health information of patients during pregnancy and the postpartum period.

“One of the reasons we found out last session that our rates were bad was because of our data. We don’t even have accurate data reporting and collection and so until we know we have all the actual records, it’s hard to make improvements,” Thierry explained. “So we wouldn’t be three, four, five years behind in looking at the records.”

Thierry’s bill was filed as KXAN’s “Mothers Erased” investigation highlighted tracking problems with the way the state collects maternal deaths and near-deaths data. 

KXAN INVESTIGATION: Mothers Erased: Women nearly dying after birth not part of Texas stats

During the session, Thierry had one hurdle after another to overcome. First, it was opposition from the Texas Hospital Association (THA). The group worked closely with Thierry on a few changes and supported a substitute to the bill that would create a workgroup to make recommendations on the establishment of a data registry, thus delaying its implementation.

After that, HB 2703 faced a tight deadline and didn’t get through the House Calendars Committee. Still, Thierry was hopeful and tried to work with Senators focused on maternal health, but in the final days of the session those lawmakers weren’t convinced.

This session Thierry also filed a bill to require cultural competency training for medical professionals to remove bias in the treatment of African-American women, but that bill didn’t get a hearing.

“What the bill was going to do was to authorize our colleges and universities to require cultural competency, implicit bias training in their medical schools so that they would be able to catch that early, during the residency and times where people go out and get their license and realize that those biases may be playing a part in whether or not they’re sensitive to African-American moms when they present their health conditions,” Thierry said.

Despite difficulties establishing a data registry, lawmakers backed several measures that will provide some support to moms suffering or dying after giving birth.

LEGAL UPDATE: Lawmakers pass bills spurred by KXAN investigations

Senate Bill 748, authored by Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, will require the state to collect information on the number of children born to Medicaid recipients, how many women are screened for postpartum depression, the average time it takes for a woman to be screened for postpartum depression and when those women start related treatment under Medicaid or through the state’s Healthy Texas women program.

The bill, which passed the House and Senate, will also require the state to develop a pilot program to follow mothers throughout their pregnancies to help reduce poor birth outcomes. The state will be required to include at least one rural county with a high rate of maternal mortality and morbidity as part of that program. If signed, by Gov. Greg Abbott the bill will go into effect September 1.

Senate Bill 436, authored by Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, also passed the House and Senate. That bill would require the state to develop best practices for treating opioid abuse among pregnant women in an effort to reduce the number of related overdoses by pregnant or postpartum women. If signed by Abbott, it would go into effect immediately.

In addition to those bills, efforts to improve maternal healthcare for women across the state are expected to continue over the next few years and into next session. Thierry said she will continue to raise awareness on the need for reliable data and equitable maternal health care. She plans to pre-file both bills next session.

“I’m still going to be out here representing women, all women,” she said. “My belief is that if you help the group, the least, the last, the lost that is most underrepresented, or that is dying at the highest rate, then you’re actually helping the whole.”

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