Being pregnant in Texas should not be this dangerous

The Texas Maternal Mortality and Morbidity Investigation Commission recently released a report on deaths occurring between conception and the first 12 months of pregnancy. In 2019, more than 50 Texans died of causes directly related to pregnancy, according to reports. This is an unacceptable number. Many others have experienced severe pregnancy complications that, while not fatal, can have long-term effects on maternal health.

The panel found that deaths during pregnancy often have multiple causes, but more than half of the contributing factors occurred at the provider, health facility, or health system level. This means that there is greater responsibility for the systems with which people interact than for individual choices. Ninety percent of these pregnancy-related deaths are considered preventable, higher than nationally reported, so state-level policy changes are needed to address these heartbreaking statistics.

Another key takeaway from the report is the disproportionate incidence of deaths and severe complications among Texas’ black communities and those without private insurance.

As public policy and inequality researchers, we are not surprised by these findings. Research clearly shows how unequal access to quality care and systemic racism undermine people’s health and well-being before, during and after pregnancy.

Texas has the highest percentage of uninsured residents because state policymakers have not expanded Medicaid, but the expansion of Medicaid is supported by most Texans and has reduced maternal mortality. Comprehensive Medicaid coverage helps manage health conditions that, if left untreated, can increase the risk of pregnancy complications. It may provide access to treatments for depression and substance use disorders, which are common causes of related deaths.

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