What's behind the jump in maternal mortality rates in Texas?

What's behind the jump in maternal mortality rates in Texas?

Credit: Chris Martino via Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0).
Credit: Chris Martino via Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0).

.- A jump in Texas’ maternal mortality rate has sparked criticism that the closures of abortion clinics in the state caused a shortage in life-saving prenatal health care – but is that true?

“There have been abortion clinic closures, but abortion clinics here in the state of Texas, none of them provided prenatal care,” Abby Johnson, former Planned Parenthood clinic director and founder of And Then There Were None ministry which helps abortion clinic workers escape the industry, told CNA.

Ultimately, she added, “we don’t know anything about these women” so it is hard to conclude any one reason behind the increase in Texas’ maternal mortality rate from 2010-14.

A study conducted by Obstetrics & Gynecology journal found that Texas’ death rate for expecting mothers was much higher than the national average after 2010. The rate there doubled in 2011 and 2012, the report noted.

Some advocates quickly speculated that the state’s cuts to public health funding for “family planning” in 2011 and its regulation of abortion clinics – which was just ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court – shut down abortion clinics that purportedly offered mothers life-saving prenatal care, and thus could have caused a spike in pregnancy-related deaths.

One column in the Dallas Morning News asked “Where, oh where, are all those lawmakers who cited ‘women's health’ as their rallying cry in defunding Planned Parenthood, shuttering clinics, and forcing sonograms and delays on abortion patients? These women are dying – why aren't aren't [sic] they sounding the sirens and ringing the alarm bells? Why don't we see the same political zeal on behalf of dying women?”

CNN suggested that the cuts, clinic closures, and maternal death spike could all be related, reporting that “in Texas, where clinics serving women have shuttered and their health interests have been battled all the way up to the US Supreme Court, the rate of pregnancy-related deaths more than doubled over the course of two years.”

However, the actual study was careful not to draw any direct conclusion from the numbers, saying they were abnormally high.

“There were some changes in the provision of women’s health services in Texas from 2011 to 2015, including the closing of several women’s health clinics,” the report noted. “Still, in the absence of war, natural disaster, or severe economic upheaval, the doubling of a mortality rate within a 2-year period in a state with almost 400,000 annual births seems unlikely.”

“A future study will examine Texas data by race-ethnicity and detailed causes of death to better understand this unusual finding,” it added.

The abortion clinics that closed did not offer prenatal care, Johnson maintained. And “Texas is funding women’s health at a historically-high level,” she added.

PolitiFact actually declared that to be true last year, providing 2014-15 numbers from the state’s health commission showing a $100 million expansion on “primary health care” as well as more than $24 million in breast and cervical cancer screening.

“There are some other factors” that could have affected the numbers, Johnson noted.

The state does have a high immigrant population where pregnant mothers coming to the U.S. may have received prenatal care in another country. There are also other health issues, like Texas having one of the highest obesity rates in the country, she noted.

However, it would be impossible to know what exactly is behind the mortality rate increase without more data, Johnson insisted. Regardless, mothers must take their prenatal health seriously.

“We always need to encourage women to begin prenatal care early, take care of themselves during their pregnancies, make wise decisions during their pregnancies,” she said.

Tags: Abortion Regulation