Why Are So Many Texas Moms Dying?

May 19, 2017

Texas is one of the worst states in the nation for women to give birth. Between 2011 and 2012, 189 Texas mothers died less than a year after childbirth. And the question is why? Also – why is this statistic so much worse for African American mothers?

HB  2403 is a bill in the Texas legislature that would look for answers. It calls for commissioning a study on how race and socioeconomics affect access and care for pregnant black women. The bill appeared to be on its way to passage but killed recently. Representative Shawn Thierry, a Houston Democrat, authored the bill and is looking to resurrect it.

Rep. Thierry:

House Bill 2403 is really an important piece of legislation especially right now. I thought it was very timely that the bill essentially would direct our Texas maternal mortality and morbidity task force, which is a lot of words, but it is something that we have right now that really that looks at why women in Texas are dying in childbirth at such high numbers. So the bill was quenched to rack them to investigate the causes of why African-American women specifically are dying at three times the rate as other women in childbirth. 

Davies:

Most people are not aware that childbirth in Texas is not as safe as it should be. 

Rep. Thierry:

It's completely shocking. I didn't know I wasn't aware of this until I read in a report. So there was a 2016 report that came out from the task force and I was just completely alarmed at the statistic for all women and in particularly African-American women. But you know for most people this is one of those, did you know type of questions.  People are shocked that they aren't aware that in Texas maternal mortality rates are on par with countries such as Turkey and Mexico. 

Davies:

The state's maternal mortality rates nearly doubled between 2010 and 2014. This is according to a medical journal. Looking at these statistics, but what we don't know is why that is. 

Rep. Thierry:

Well, no we don't. And then that's part of it and we can look at in additional information such as obviously a lack of health care. You know when funding is cut off often that you would think there would be a natural correlations where when women don't have access they're not going to get the care that they need during their pregnancies. And so my goal was to drill down on this particularly for African-American women because they were the most at risk as a result of the information and the data and the study.  And there wasn't anything to explain why this is happening. 

Davies:

But we do see that this is a population that has a lot of heart disease and high blood pressure and those risk factors are turning up in the reports we're looking at. But also drug overdoses is part of it as well but we're seeing this opioid epidemic across the board in our society. 

Rep. Thierry:

And yes absolutely. And you know here's one thing that people didn't know. Some of the data that came out. So that was what people kind of thought that maybe it was drug use or what have you but the the data that came out recently said that African-American women, when it came to prescription drug abuse, were at the lowest level in certain other types of drug use.

So there's still that. That's why it is so important for the bill because we can guess what it could be. But we're not sure. The death certificate data is not completely up to date. And so the purpose of it was for them to go further and to look into this. We want to look at issues such as you know the socioeconomic background of the mother. Is this happening to women at certain income levels or is it across the board? We just don't know. 

Davies:

Are you trying to look for a pattern where can there could be some interventions? Who would be against a bill like this trying to help motherhood in Texas and have safe childbirth in Texas. What happened?

Rep. Thierry:

Well, my bill 2403 unfortunately got caught in the crossfire of what I'm calling a political civil war that honestly took place within the Republican Party in the House. And because there were factions in the Republican caucus that did not agree on certain procedures our entire calendar was taken down in one day.

So an entire session's worth of work was killed in one day and my bill, House bill 2403, was on that list. I was told by some of the members quote "it wasn't personal." But you know it is a hard pill to swallow when you see something that was so meaningful just go up in flames, so to speak. On Mother's Day weekend, of all things. It was actually called the "Mother's Day Massacre." 

Davies:

So these are members of the so-called Freedom Caucus. These are Tea Party-affiliated Republicans who said that they have not been treated fairly in the House. And so they were going to basically hold the floor hostage while there was this deadline for bills to be passed and that was the parliamentarian power move that they made, which killed this bill and others. So does that mean that House bill 2403 is dead? 

Rep. Thierry:

Well, it could mean that. But thank goodness Rep. Thierry is not deterred. I'm not going to quit. I'm not defeated. I'm still looking at other avenues to get this legislation passed. And as you can see the strategy makes a big difference in the house the same way the Freedom Caucus used for legitimate rules that we have for that political parliamentary maneuver.

There are other strategies and tactics where you can get your legislation added to another bill as an amendment. And so that's what I'm working on right now. I know that I have a moral obligation and a duty to all of women in Texas and these mothers. And like I shared with members of the Freedom Caucus this is that they believe in pro-life and this is a bill that that's in keeping with the spirit of all pro-life measures. These are women that chose to carry their babies to full term. They chose life and they paid the ultimate sacrifice for it by having to lose their lives in childbirth. 

Davies:

I frequently wonder about the children, the infant of the mother that died in these statistics that I read about. And I wonder what typically happens to them? 

Rep. Thierry:

It's so interesting you're saying that I've been talking about that all session. You know if you followed where we are in session foster care and CPS reform has been another one of our priorities. And I wonder you know because we don't have the data we don't have the information that's exactly right. What has become of these children are they going into the foster care system now because they're motherless. We don't know any of this information. And so your question is very timely and it's it's a frightening thought to think that we may be putting all this effort into reforming foster care but yet we're not doing anything to prevent children from ending up there. 

Davies:

So when you spoke to these Freedom Caucus members and said, this is an important bill, this is something that is pro-life. They just told you, "suck it up buttercup, we've got an agenda."? 

Rep. Thierry:

You know not in those words. You know some of them actually are very sensitive to what I was saying. But again politics you know it was a scorched earth theories so to speak that was going on that was larger than my bill for them. I believe there were some other bills on the calendar that they actually supported that they didn't get to. Not on the calendar that they killed that bill that we didn't hear as a result of all of this going on in the session. And so that's what's just so unfortunate because that strategy really really is kind of like the phrase you hear you know cutting off your nose to spite your face because so many of us who come here to really do the good work for the people of Texas to suffer you know good policy we're sent here to do the people's work. And unfortunately an entire session's worth of work almost with you know a lot of it went down in one night.