A new study shows that Texas’s maternal mortality rate is lower than previously believed, but the corrected rates for Black women remain alarmingly high.
A study released this week by the state’s Maternal Mortality and Morbidity Task Force found the maternal morbidity figures from 2012—which had Texas mothers dying at rates that were more than double the 2010 numbers—were based on faulty data collection. More than half of the deaths that were recorded as pregnancy-related were not, according to The Washington Post. Per the Post:
In 2016, Texas made national headlines after research that was also published in Obstetrics & Gynecology highlighted that the state’s maternal mortality rate had mysteriously skyrocketed in just two short years between 2010 and 2012. In 2012, for example, 148 Texas mothers died of pregnancy-related complications compared to 72 in 2010, the study found. The national rate in 2013 was 28 deaths per 100,000 births.
To correct the statistics, the Texas Maternal Mortality and Morbidity Task Force, which had been established to study the maternal mortality rate issue in 2013, cross-referenced death certificates, birth certificates and a year’s worth of medical records for all 147 women in the state’s records. They found that, in fact, there were only 56 deaths that fell under the definition of maternal mortality—any pregnancy-related death while a woman is pregnant or within 42 days of giving birth, excluding accidental or incidental causes such as car crashes or homicide.
While researchers welcome the correction, the updated statistics for Black Texan women are still reason for concern. Writes The Post: “Compared to the overall rate of 14.6 deaths per 100,000 live births, the rate for Black women was still double that, at 27.8 per 100,000 live births, according to the study.” Nationwide, Black women also have disproportionately higher mortality rates than other demographics.
An October 2017 article in the Los Angeles Times on high rates of Black maternal mortality rates stated, “Texas has the largest number of uninsured people in the U.S., and there have been substantial cuts to women’s health programs that offer family planning and other routine services to low-income women, including screening for diabetes, hypertension and cervical cancer, which if left untreated could play a role in maternal deaths.” The piece also reported that Black Texan women had the highest rate of being hospitalized for hemorrhaging and blood transfusions, common factors in maternal deaths in the state.
In an emailed statement made in recognition of the first Black Maternal Health Week (which runs April 11-17 and is organized by Black Mamas Matter Alliance), Dr. Aisha Wagner of the Physicians for Reproductive Health stressed the systemic inequalities that contribute to high rates of Black maternal mortality:
The numbers give us just a glimpse of the unjustifiable disparities that exist: in the United States today, pregnancy-related deaths for Black women are three times more likely than for White women—one of the widest racial disparities across health care—and infant mortality for Black infants is twice as likely as for White infants.
As advocates and health care providers work to close this gap, it’s critical to shed light on the reasons the gap exists to begin with: structural, institutional and interpersonal racism. Like many aspects of American society, parts of the health care system are failing communities of color and poor communities. While health care technology and access have been improving, these improvements exist mainly for White patients which, in turn, widens the maternal health gap. From unconscious biases among health care providers to the health repercussions of living a lifetime experiencing structural and interpersonal racism, it is no surprise to me that we find ourselves in this unacceptable reality.
The authors of the study said the Maternal Mortality and Morbidity Task Force intends to use its new methodology to recalculate rates for other years to better understand the trends—and to use the data to prevent maternal deaths in Texas and across the nation.