Bad Takes: In a 'Tale of Two Documents,' the one about Texas women should draw real outrage

The noise about 'Hunter Biden's laptop' is obscuring a report from the Texas government on a real world tragedy: the hundreds of mothers in this state who have died during or after childbirth over the past decade.

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Texas' Maternal Mortality and Morbidity Review Committee is required to submit a report on maternal deaths "not later than September 1st" in even-numbered years, but didn't release its 2022 report until Dec. 15. - Unsplash / Nathana Rebouças
Unsplash / Nathana Rebouças
Texas' Maternal Mortality and Morbidity Review Committee is required to submit a report on maternal deaths "not later than September 1st" in even-numbered years, but didn't release its 2022 report until Dec. 15.

Editor's Note: Bad Takes is a column of opinion and analysis.

Consider two documents. The first is an ostensibly censored tabloid story headlined "Smoking-gun email reveals how Hunter Biden introduced Ukrainian businessman to VP dad." The second is a curiously delayed government report: "Texas Maternal Mortality and Morbidity Review Committee and Department of State Health Services Joint Biennial Report 2022."

For a period of less than 48 hours in the run-up to the 2020 presidential election, Twitter blocked the sharing of a link to a New York Post article about Hunter Biden, then-presidential candidate Joe Biden's troubled son. Content moderators at the social media giant, who had been primed since 2016 to remain on guard against foreign disinformation, were at first unable to corroborate the story's details, and suspected it violated the company's policy against so-called "hacked materials." 

Reportedly Donald Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani — always a bastion of credibility and probity — had acquired Hunter's laptop by way of a computer repair shop in Delaware. So the story goes, Giuliani held onto the allegedly incriminating emails and photos from the machine until October to surprise the Biden campaign before Election Day. Even Fox News passed on running the dubious-sounding story, and the New York Post reporters who wrote it up initially refused to attach their bylines. 

So, Twitter erred on the side of censorship, then quickly reversed that bad decision and admitted the mistake. Ironically, this flip-flop only served to amplify the story's reach out of any proportion to its significance. The rabid right has been screaming about it ever since. 

The controversy was reignited this month when Twitter's new smirking (and perhaps soon-to-be former) CEO, Elon Musk, allowed celebrity journalists to peruse internal emails between former executives and employees. Ted Cruz decried the "weaponizing of Big Tech" as GOP politicians and supporters called for everything from investigations and impeachments to arrests and revolution. But despite a lot of hype, the supposed revelations of the "Twitter files" have sort of been a nothingburger.

If your eyes glaze over when you hear the phrase "Hunter Biden's laptop," strap in. The incoming Republican-majority House is about to Benghazi the stuffing out of it for a full two years. That's not to say there aren't weighty concerns regarding nepotism and free speech based on what we already knew. And fostering a culture of transparency and open exchange is about more than the technicalities of First Amendment jurisprudence.

What we on the left persistently emphasize, over the objections of liberals and conservatives alike, is that the rule of corporations can be just as repressive and potentially tyrannical as that of governments. If recovering Reaganites now concur with commonsensical market skepticism, we ought to count our holiday blessings. 

Contrast this hyperventilation that's spread from the Twitterverse to Congress to a report from the Texas government about a real world tragedy: the hundreds of mothers in this state who have died during or after childbirth over the past decade. 

By law, Texas' Maternal Mortality and Morbidity Review Committee is required to submit a report on maternal deaths "not later than September 1st" in even-numbered years. It's been "the agency's practice to release findings even before a full analysis is completed, in an effort to speed up public health interventions," the Houston Chronicle reported earlier this month.

Yet "state health officials had completed a long-awaited report on maternal deaths and were preparing talking points about the findings just days before it was shelved until after the November midterms, according to emails obtained by Hearst Newspapers."

Naturally, that ensured the substance of the report wouldn't become an election issue. 

So Texas voters didn't learn that "severe medical complications from pregnancy and childbirth increased significantly between 2018 and 2020, surging from 58.2 to 72.7 cases per 10,000 deliveries in Texas," as the Texas Tribune could finally report once the report was finally made available on Dec. 15. And now we also know that more than 180 kids lost their mothers in childbirth in 2019.

"This is not just data," community advocate Nakeenya Wilson told her fellow committee members on Dec. 9. "Suppressing and withholding data ... is dishonorably burying those women. In my opinion and in the opinion of many of my colleagues, there was no need for a delay."

Policy analyst Uduak Nkanga said during public commentary before the committee that missing the report deadline "silences the voices of those dead women and contributes to the detrimental outcomes for women, more specifically Black women."

"Texas officials played political games with our lives by hiding this data from voters throughout the midterms," tweeted the Afiya Center, a reproductive justice group for which Nkanga works.

To their point, Black women are two to four times more likely to die during pregnancy than women of other races, and the report tied 12% of those deaths to racial discrimination. It also concluded that 90% of all pregnancy-related deaths were preventable. And, according to the Commonwealth Fund, the United States already has the highest overall maternal mortality rate among rich nations, by far. 

A president's wayward son trading on his father's name as a lucrative side-hustle is indeed embarrassing and corrupt, and suppressing such a story, even for a day, was a bad move for Twitter. The public had a right to know.

But if that amounts to "rigging" the 2020 election for Biden, what are we prepared to call Texas Gov. Greg Abbott's heartless suppression of vital information that was required by statute to release to Texans in 2022? And how vastly more shameful is "dishonorably burying" the mothers who died on Abbott's watch?

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