As voters key in on abortion, Texas delays release of new maternal death data until after midterms

'There are a lot of us that want to know whether or not pregnancy in Texas is a death sentence,' one Democratic lawmaker said.

click to enlarge A pregnant woman receives a checkup. - Shutterstock / Reshetnikov_art
Shutterstock / Reshetnikov_art
A pregnant woman receives a checkup.
Texas' health department will miss the deadline for the state's first major update on pregnancy-related deaths in nine years, saying the data won't be available until after the November elections, the Houston Chronicle reports.

The delay comes as health advocates raise questions about the impact of Texas' GOP-led abortion ban on women's health and as reproductive rights emerge as a liability for the state's Republican elected officials, including Gov. Greg Abbott.

The Texas Department of State Health Services disclosed the delay earlier this month, saying it likely won't release data until sometime next summer — after both the midterms and next year's meeting of the Texas Legislature, according to the Chronicle.

During a hearing, DSHS commissioner Dr. John Hellerstedt — the physician Abbott appointed to oversee a "strike force" to reopen Texas during the early stages of the COVID-19 crisis — said his agency will miss a Sept. 1 deadline for the data because it's trying to align its methodology with that of other states, the Chronicle reports.

Hellerstedt also blamed staff shortfalls and budget problems for the delay. A DSHS spokesperson told the Chronicle that the agency is now "having conversations with legislators" about how to speed the release of the information.

Abbott, who's running a tight race for a third term, signed Texas' so-called "trigger law," which enabled a ban on virtually all abortions in the state after this summer's U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade.

Democratic lawmakers raised concerns DSHS's delay will have implications for the state's ability to address women's health issues.

"Texas pregnant moms [and] babies can't afford to wait. We need the maternal mortality/morbidity data released like our lives depend on it ... because they actually do!" tweeted Texas Rep. Shawn Thierry, D-Houston.

Thierry pledged to work with DSHS and Texas House leaders to resolve the issue before January's start of the new legislative session. 

The state's maternal mortality rate is the seventh-highest in the country, according to a USA Today investigation. What's more, those figures are worse for Black women, who die at around three times the rate of other women, the Chronicle reports.

A recent New England Journal of Medicine study reported on by the Current also found that Texas' six-week abortion ban — enacted before the state's near-complete prohibition of the procedure — was endangering the lives of patients with high-risk pregnancies.

“There are a lot of us that want to know whether or not pregnancy in Texas is a death sentence,” tweeted State Rep. Ann Johnson, D-Houston, a member of the Texas Women’s Health Caucus.

“If we’ve got a higher rate of maternal mortality, we sure want to figure it out," she continued. "You can’t figure it out if somebody’s sitting on the numbers, and that’s my worry."

In an emailed statement, the Texas Democratic Party blamed Abbott and other Republican officials for engineering the delay.

“We told you — these abortion bans will kill women," Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilbert Hinojosa said. “Now, Republicans are reaping what they have sewn [sic], and they want to cover it up because they know how damaging it is to their chances of success in the midterm elections."

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