Group files open-records request for Texas' delayed data on pregnancy-related deaths

Texas had until Sept. 1 to release its first major update on maternal mortality in nine years but now says it won't issue the data until after the November election.

click to enlarge Women march in San Antonio earlier this year for abortion rights. Texas' delay in releasing updated information on maternal mortality comes as abortion access emerges as a central issue in the November election. - Jaime Monzon
Jaime Monzon
Women march in San Antonio earlier this year for abortion rights. Texas' delay in releasing updated information on maternal mortality comes as abortion access emerges as a central issue in the November election.
A watchdog group has submitted a public records request demanding that Texas immediately release a major report on maternal mortality that state officials recently said they'll delay until after the midterm elections.

The Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) originally had a Sept. 1 deadline for releasing the data, Texas' first major update on pregnancy-related deaths in nine years. Instead, officials said they would make the numbers available next summer.

In its requests, Democracy Forward — a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that combats anti-democratic actions by lawmakers — asks DSHS and the Texas Maternal Mortality & Morbidity Review Committee to release what data they have right now, arguing that Texans can't afford to wait any longer.

"The Texas Legislature has a failed over a number of sessions to address the maternal health crisis in the state," Democracy Forward CEO Skye Perryman told the Current. "It has failed to expand Medicaid, it has not expanded postpartum Medicaid to a sufficient amount and it has failed to address the health of women in a variety of respects."

As reported by the Houston Chronicle, DSHS officials said they needed more time to align their methodology with that of other states. They also blamed staff shortfalls and budget woes for the delay.

The missed deadline comes as Texas' near-total abortion ban and the state's resistance to expanding Medicaid loom as potential election-year liabilities for Republican elected officials, including Gov. Greg Abbott.

Democracy Forward's Perryman said the delay is inexcusable because the state report was expected to include recommendations for policymakers to help improve Texas' maternal mortality record. Now, those won't be available until after the end of the next legislative session, which starts in January.

Texas' maternal mortality rate is the seventh-highest in the country, according to a USA Today investigation. What's more, pregnant Black women in Texas die at around three times the rate of other women, according to existing state data.

"It is concerning when lawmakers want to withhold that information, and it's also important that the people of Texas have access to evidence-based recommendations about things their lawmakers should be doing in order to protect and improve the lives of women and mothers in the state," Perryman said.

Perryman declined to say what actions Democracy Forward might take should Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, a Republican anti-abortion crusader, rule that the agencies aren't required to give up the data.

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