A new study has just been released by the American College of Gynecologists and Obstetricians which says, except for the state of California, maternal death has been on the rise in America from the years 2000 to 2014. And specifically in Texas, the rise of maternal deaths from 2010 to 2014 has doubled in just four years. Furthermore, in the advanced and developed world, the US has the unique distinction of having the highest maternal mortality rate when compared to our European and Canadian counterparts.
A maternal death is defined as a woman who dies as a result of complications with her pregnancy or shortly after childbirth. The Texas Department of Health is going to create a task force to investigate why the Lone Star state in all of its glorious grandeur can’t seem to care enough about pregnant women to prevent their deaths. Here are some specific statistics about the state of Texas:
[B]etween 2000 and 2010, Texas saw only a “modest increase” in maternal mortality, from 17.7 to 18.6 deaths per 100,000 live births.
The next year, Texas’ rate spiked, to 33 deaths per 100,000 live births, reaching “levels not seen in other U.S. states,”
During the worst years of the recession, a factor which would impact maternal mortality, the maternal mortality rates were stable and nearly unchanged. However, Obamacare was passed in 2010 and some of its provisions immediately became the law. Many states, especially Red states in the south chose to not expand the Medicaid and some states like Texas chose to cut funding for medical services as well, and some of the greatest cuts went to women’s healthcare services. Governor Rick Perry passed a series of draconian laws cracking down on women’s access to safe and legal abortions and contraceptives. Any facility that performs abortions must pass a strict guideline of having a hospital grade operating room in its facility, which most women’s health clinics don’t have, so they faced closure.
In 2011, just as the spike began, the Texas state legislature cut $73.6m from the state’s family planning budget of $111.5m. The two-thirds cut forced more than 80 family planning clinics to shut down across the state. The remaining clinics managed to provide services – such as low-cost or free birth control, cancer screenings and well-woman exams – to only half as many women as before.
But about half the state lacks ready access to OB-GYN care, making it difficult for women to obtain contraception or for pregnant women to confirm the health of their babies. Just this month, Texas’s health department drew fire for allocating $1.6m of the $18m the state budgets for low-income women’s family planning to an anti-abortion group that does not provide basic health services.
So, the state of Texas, allocated parts of their paltry budget to right-wing Christian groups to print pro-life flyers to hand out rather than provide health services to women. In a state as big as, and as spread out as Texas, this would force women who live in rural areas to drive for hours to the cities to get basic routine prenatal examinations. On top of closing women’s health clinics, Texas has some of the lowest income thresholds to apply for state Medicaid for pregnant women, and this is something they are quite proud of. While other states allow women who earn 198% above the federal poverty limit to qualify for aid, the state of Texas (and Alabama) only allows up to 18% above the federal poverty limit – and they are proud of this, it’s written all over the websites where you apply for aid in Texas.
Now that the forensics and statistics are out of the way, the bigger question is: where is the outrage at these unnecessary, preventable maternal deaths? This is, categorically, a pro-life issue. This is a pro-women, pro-mother and pro-family issue; where are all the pro-life rallies and Christian outrage for women who die of maternal deaths? Why aren’t the pastors of these huge megachurches (many of whom are based in Texas) who get their sermons broadcasted every Sunday up in arms about this? They devote a lot of airtime to homophobic rants and tirades against women who get abortions telling anyone who will listen that it’s the gay people and abortionists who will cause the downfall of this country. Don’t these people have mothers, grandmothers, daughters and sisters? Where is the Catholic Church on this? They hire lobbyists in Washington to pass anti-abortion legislation and ban coverage of contraceptives on their health insurance plans to women who work for them, where is the outrage at mothers dying as a result of complications in pregnancy and childbirth? If they care so much about the life and rights of an unborn child and are willing to go to bat for them at every legislative juncture, what about the people that give birth to them? Their mothers – do their lives not matter?
And where are the feminists on this? Where does Hillary Clinton’s campaign stand on this issue? She’s a mother, a grandmother, she says she cares about women, all women, what does she have to say about this? More importantly, what will she do to make sure maternal deaths (along with infant mortality) goes down to zero in this country?
That the spike in maternal deaths all around the country occurred after Obamacare was passed and implemented is telling too. Obamacare, with the goal of controlling healthcare costs and providing quality healthcare to all people, has clearly failed in the most fundamental indicator of the health of a nation and that is maternal mortality (and infant mortality). This is another failure of Obamacare. Because he allowed states to choose whether they wanted to join the public exchanges or not (instead of mandating it), the states that opt out such as Texas, healthcare access to the poorest residents of those states will suffer.
This study didn’t go into the demographics of the women who died from maternal deaths and the college will commission further studies on the specific demographics of the women, but it’s not a stretch to think that it’s the most vulnerable women who are dying needlessly during pregnancy and after childbirth. These are probably poor rural women, undocumented women who won’t go to doctors for fear of being deported and their local health clinic has been forced to close and women who neither have the funds to purchase health insurance and make too much money to qualify for state medicaid.
While the headlines of this report is shocking at first, we shouldn’t be too surprised. After all, the lives and wellbeing of women are not the top priority of anyone. We have Brock Turner, despite being convicted of rape on all charges by a jury, the judge gave him a slap on the wrist – saying the public shaming and humiliation of the trial is punishment enough. Austin Wilkerson of Boulder, Colorado, another convicted rapist, the judge declined to give him a jail sentence and sentenced him to community work and 20 years probation. Another judge took his judicial powers even further and decided to set aside rape charges of David Becker, a Massachusetts high school student so that he can “enjoy” his college experience (and rape more women) and not have to be registered as a sex offender. And then you have pro-life fanatics who will do anything to prohibit, impede and shame women who wish to seek use of contraceptives and safe access to abortions yet the same people see no problem with rapists not going to prison for their crimes.
The findings of this report is sobering but it is more tragic than anything. It’s tragic not just at the loss of life and loss of mothers to their children but that many maternal deaths are wholly preventable if women just had access to health services early in their pregnancies. The reason not all women in this country have access to good prenatal care boils down to politics, religious fanaticism and class war on the poor by refusing to allocate tax dollars for poor women.