WASHINGTON ― Texas experienced a sudden and dramatic spike in pregnancy-related deaths in 2011, the same year the state slashed funding for Planned Parenthood and women’s health programs, according to a study in the September issue of Obstetrics and Gynecology.
After a modest increase in maternal mortality in Texas between 2000 and 2010, the rate of pregnancy-related deaths nearly doubled in 2011 and 2012 ― something researchers described as “puzzling” and out of sync with data from the other 49 states. Seventy-two women in Texas died from complications of pregnancy and childbirth in 2010, and that number jumped to 148 in 2012.
While the study does not suggest a clear cause for Texas’ alarming data, the rise in pregnancy-related deaths coincided with lawmakers slashing family planning funds by 66 percent in the state budget in 2011. The cuts forced 82 family planning clinics to close, one-third of which were Planned Parenthood clinics, and left Texas’ women’s health program able to serve less than half as many women as it had previously served. Low-income women in particular had less access to affordable birth control and thus had more babies, according to a report by the Los Angeles Times.
The new data on pregnancy-related deaths is too dramatic to be explained only by the budget cuts to women’s health, the study notes.
“In the absence of war, natural disaster, or severe economic upheaval, the doubling of a mortality rate within a two year period in a state with almost 400,000 annual births seems unlikely,” researchers write.
Texas’ Department of Health said a task force is looking into the issue but has not come up with an explanation or solution.
“We’re aware of the numbers and want to see a decrease in this trend,” spokeswoman Carrie Williams told the Dallas Morning News, “and that’s why the task force is closely reviewing these cases and will make recommendations.”