AUSTIN (KXAN) — A state lawmaker is looking for accountability after Texas delayed publication of maternal death data, which was due to be released on Sept. 1, a deadline mandated by state law.
Rep. Shawn Thierry, D-Houston, is now meeting with attorneys to see if she can get her hands on the data. She and 29 other lawmakers sent a letter to the Texas Department of State Health Services on Monday pushing the department to release the 2022 Texas Maternal Mortality Report.
On State of Texas, Thierry told KXAN she had not yet gotten a response from DSHS. She said each day that goes by the report is not published, the department is in direct violation of the law. It’s unclear, however, how that law is enforced.
“We would hope that our agencies and departments would be held to the same standards as the everyday taxpayer,” Thierry said. “They have every obligation and duty to abide by the law.”
A 2019 KXAN investigation dug into reasons mothers die during pregnancy or after giving birth. It also found the exact number of women dying isn’t clear due to data collection errors.
DSHS has the latest data, but it likely won’t be released until after the next legislative session.
According to Thierry’s letter to DSHS, that delay will “significantly hinder the legislature’s ability to access and implement critical policy aimed at reducing and preventing future pregnancy-related deaths and maternal morbidities.”
During Texas’ last legislative session, Thierry filed a bill that would have established a data registry and maternal mortality and data registry, which would have essentially had real-time reporting of maternal health outcomes. The bill did not pass, but Thierry said if it had, there would not be a need for a state agency or department to provide the information.
Thierry said she wants to refile the bill, but it’s hard to know what to expect without the report.
“Without this report, essentially, my colleagues and I don’t know whether we’re bringing a garden hose to put out a flame or whether we need ten fire trucks to put out a four-alarm fire,” Thierry said. “And as I’ve said, right now, all we know, is that DSHS has cut off water.”
The law that requires the report to be published doesn’t specify what happens if the report isn’t released on time, Thierry explained.
“But I am going to continue to sound the alarm, because it’s not just enforcing the law for the law’s sake — lives are depending on this,” she said. “Texas mothers, pregnant women and future pregnant women should not have to stress and worry as to whether or not they are at an increased risk for a pregnancy-related death simply, because they live in the state of Texas.”
Read the full investigation here.