AUSTIN (KXAN) – The Texas Tribune hosted Saturday a panel discussion on female reproductive health, with panelists discussing the ripple effects of some substantial recent events, like the U.S. Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade, as well as efforts to undo some damage in the legislature.
Evelyn Delgado, chair of the Texas Women’s Health Care Coalition and CEO of Healthy Futures of Texas, and Texas State Representative Donna Howard (D-Austin) talked about how staffing shortages in health care roles are already extensive but that we may see them get even worse with stern laws surrounding abortion on the books in Texas.
“One of the challenges we have with obstetrics and gynecology, in particular, is the difficulty we have now as a result of living in the post-Roe era,” Howard said.
“So many of our medical schools are having to make arrangements with other states to send medical students for residency outside of Texas to get the training they need to perform abortions – which, of course, abortions are used in all kinds of situations, not just in the so-called ‘elective abortion,’” Howard said. “We know that when people – doctors, medical students and residents – go someplace else, there’s a possibility that they don’t come back to Texas.”
Further, Howard said there are reports of OGBYNs leaving the state due to the risk of exercising medical judgment and potentially being penalized or even serving jail time for executing an abortion in a medically necessary circumstance.
“We have exacerbated the problem, in terms of workforce shortage, certainly,” she continued.
This past session, Howard said the legislature did take some action aiming to attenuate the shortage, including increasing funding to the Physician Education Loan Repayment Program (PELRP), which applied to healthcare providers who choose to practice in rural or underserved communities, and adding money to the Nursing Shortage Reduction Program.
“We definitely did take some steps forward,” she said. “A little progress in terms of the budget, but this is going to be a challenge for quite some time.”
The panelists discussed how Texas continues to have some of the highest rates of maternal mortality in the U.S. The most essential action to reduce this rate is access to health care, the panelists said.
The most recent report to be released on maternal mortality was at the end of 2022 detailing pregnancy-related deaths that occurred in 2019.
Obstetric hemorrhage was the leading cause of pregnancy-related death, followed by mental health conditions in that report. The findings linked multiple causes to the deaths, including obesity, discrimination and substance use. The report indicated that most of the pregnancy-related deaths that occurred in 2019 were preventable.
“[The 2022 report] has revealed to us a lot of issues that we still need to address,” Howard said. “We still have one of the highest rates of maternal mortality and morbidity in the nation,” she continued. “It disproportionately impacts women of color, particularly black moms. And we have not made much progress as there should be.”