Maternal Death Rates on the Rise in Texas and the U.S.

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    While the death rates of pregnant women and women who have recently given birth have been on the decline throughout much of the globe for some time, they continue to rise in the U.S. — and in one state in particular.

    Between 2010 and 2012, maternal mortality rates in Texas more than doubled, from 72 cases to 148. They remained high in subsequent years: 140 in 2013, and 135 in 2014, the latest year for which data is available.

    That puts Texas’ maternal mortality rate at about 30 women per 100,000 live births, well above the national rate (23.8) and several times that of other developed countries such as France (5.5), Japan (3.3), or Italy (2.1).

    African-American women, in particular, seem to be most affected by the sudden spike in mothers’ deaths. Though black women accounted for just 11% of all births in Texas in 2011 and 2012, they made up 29% of all pregnancy-related deaths through term and up to one year after giving birth, a disproportionate amount compared to white or Hispanic women.

    The study, which appears in the September issue of the journal Obstetrics and Gynecology, does not exactly explain why maternal mortality rates have shot up in the U.S. and in Texas through recent years. Advocate groups for reproductive rights, though, have their theories.

    In 2011, Texas legislators cut the family planning budget by more than $70 million and declined to expand Medicaid services. Two years later, state laws effectively forced more than half of clinics in the area offering abortion services to shut down. Many of those clinics, including Planned Parenthood branches, also offered healthcare screenings and services for underserved communities. The lack of available options for poor or young women, who are most fertile between the ages of 20 to 24, may have led to health complications during or after pregnancy.

    “Women have been left out in the cold, without being able to obtain regular healthcare screenings, or birth control to space their pregnancies, and delays in their initial pregnancy test and prenatal referral — all of which are harmful to women’s health,” said Sarah Wheat, chief external affairs officer for Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas.

    Others are skeptical, citing a rise in obesity, hypertension, and other metabolic conditions among Texas women that could contribute to mortality rates.

    “Maternal mortality is an incredibly complex problems with a wide variety of contributing factors,” said Lisa Hollier, head of Texas’ Maternal Mortality and Morbidity Task Force. “This report is just the beginning.”

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