As the number of Black women in Texas dying during pregnancy or shortly after giving birth continues to rise, Houston State Rep. Shawn Thierry is calling for the state to explore the issue through her Maternal Mortality Bill. Thierry asked for community members to become advocates by calling their state representatives and senators to help push the bill that will be in the special session which starts on July 18 and will last for 30 days.

Under Thierry’s bill, HB51, the state’s Maternal Mortality and Morbidity Task Force would study health-related factors for Black mothers, including heart disease, eclampsia, high blood pressure, obesity and other conditions. The task force’s research will also extend until 2023 and would look at how socioeconomic status affects Black mothers.

“After reviewing the 2016 findings from the Maternal Mortality and Morbidity Task Force [MMMTF], I was alarmed that African-American women are disproportionately at risk of dying both during and after childbirth,” Thierry said.

“While the report listed certain risk factors for all pregnant women, there was no explanation or information to address why African-American women are particularly vulnerable.

“All we know is that African-American women accounted for just 11.4 percent of all births in Texas during 2011-2012, however they were more than twice as likely to die,” she said, adding that Black women accounted for 28.8 percent of maternal deaths.

Dr. Carla F. Ortique, an OB/GYN at Texas Children’s Hospital and vice-chair of the MMMTF, said that some of the causes behind Black mother’s deaths during childbirth seemed to be hemorrhaging and hypertension, however, “there is not enough research to state that for sure.”

Ortique added that while cardiac events and hypertension/eclampsia were also common causes of maternal death, “we’ve found overdose by ingestion of drugs emerged as the second leading cause of maternal death – a majority of these deaths involved licit and illicit prescription opioids.”

In addition, though postpartum and substance abuse disorders played a significant role in the maternal death of cases reviewed by the Task Force, Ortique said their teams also discovered missed opportunities to screen women for mental and behavioral health issues and refer them to treatment.

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