Measures To Tackle Maternal Mortality Thwarted This Session By Political Infighting

May 31, 2017

Health advocates were hoping lawmakers would seriously tackle the issue of maternal mortality during the legislative session that ended Monday. But legislative efforts fell short.

The rising number of women dying in Texas while pregnant or soon after giving birth was one of the few bipartisan issues before the Legislature this year. Texas has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the developed world, and there were hopes lawmakers would figure out ways to curb that trend.

A few bills did pass, including measures improving access to care for low-income women with post-partum depression. Another bill on its way to the governor would improve maternal death investigations and reporting practices.

But other measures fell victim to political infighting.

Republican state Sen. Lois Kolkhorst introduced a bill that would extend the work of the state’s existing maternal mortality task force, which is set to end in 2019.

“I think that this is a pro-life bill," Kolkhorst said during a committee hearing for her bill, "and just as important as some of the pro-life bills that we have seen because it is the mother who gives that life and gives a part of her in birthing that child."

The task force doesn’t know exactly why Texas has seen such a large spike in deaths, so it doesn't know exactly how to stop it. Kolkhort’s bill would have bought the task force more time. It would have also asked the task force to look at what other states are doing and come up with best practices.

At the committee meeting, Donna Kreuzer begged lawmakers to keep looking at the issue.

“As a mother who lost a beautiful daughter to post-partum depression, I am here to testify in support of Senate Bill 1929,” she said.

As that bill moved along, Democratic state Rep. Shawn Thierry was pushing for legislation asking the state to look specifically at why black women were three times more likely to die.

The bill made it to the local and consent calendar but was killed right before Mothers’ Day, along with a slew of other noncontroversial bills, thanks to infighting between a small group of conservative Republicans and other lawmakers.

“After that happened I decided that I wasn’t going to give up,” Thierry said. “I decided to work behind the scenes.”

Thierry saw that Kolkhorst’s bill was still alive, so she worked with the Republican to make her measure an amendment to it.

But more bad luck. Right before the last day of the session, that bill was also killed by political squabbling among a small group of conservative Republicans.

Thierry said it has been pretty disheartening.

“You know it’s one of those things where they say lightening never strikes in the same place twice,” she said. “But for whatever reason, when it came to women’s health and our ability to have children, go through childbirth safely, once again the bill died.”

Thierry said she's not giving up and hopes something can be done before 2019.