If Rick Perry is So Pro-Life, Why is He Ignoring Texas' High Maternal Death Rate?

With all the news coming out of Texas recently about Gov. Rick Perry’s anti-choice crusade in the name of “protecting life,” one would think that Texas’ maternal health care would be top notch. Yet, on May 26, Senate Bill 495 — a bill forming a special task force to study the state’s high maternal mortality rate — was submitted to Gov. Perry’s office for his signature.

Texas’ average maternal mortality rate of 25 maternal deaths per 100,000 births per year — close to, but still significantly higher the national average of 21 maternal deaths per 100,000 births in the United States annually — is horrifyingly high compared to the maternal death rates of countries and/or regions with similar or bigger populations than Texas. Texas’ statewide maternal mortality rate ranks closer to the rates of countries such as Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, and Uzbekistan, despite the presence of modern medicine and state of the art hospitals.

While some counties in Texas report almost no maternal deaths, 15 of the state’s counties have maternal mortality rates over 100 deaths per 100,000 births — rates similar to the maternal mortality of countries such as Morocco, Honduras, Tonga, Guatemala, and Botswana.

If you are a pregnant black woman in Texas, your chance of maternal death is even greater. The maternal mortality rate for black mothers (53.9 maternal deaths per 100,000 births) was almost twice as high in 2010 than it was for white mothers (27.0 maternal deaths per 100,000 births, which is close to the state average). The lowest maternal mortality rate was amongst Hispanic women, who have a maternal mortality rate of 17.5 per 100,000 births.

However, this wasn’t always the case. In 1996 the maternal mortality rate was 6.1 per 100,000 births, which means it has quadrupled in less than 20 years. So, what changed? Well, that is what the special task force put forward in Senate Bill 495 aims to find out. The task force will be composed of the state’s leading experts to analyze the instances of maternal death in the state and will be tasked with providing the state government, hospitals, clinics, nurses and doctors with recommendations for reducing the state’s maternal mortality rate.

With Gov. Perry’s recent announcement that he will not see reelection, we can all hope that whoever succeeds him as the governor of Texas will take a proactive approach to reducing the state's maternal mortality. The task force is a step in the right direction, but will be useless if their findings are not acted upon.