Texas’ Maternal Mortality Task Force Hasn’t Been Collecting Abortion Data for 10 Years

Post-Roe, data on complications stemming from being denied abortion care or unsafe self-managed abortions could be crucial to understanding the full impact of restrictive laws

Texas’ Maternal Mortality Task Force Hasn’t Been Collecting Abortion Data for 10 Years

At the same time that the Texas Medical Board weighs updating the language of the state abortion ban’s medical exception, the Austin Chronicle reported on Friday that the Texas Maternal Mortality Task Force hasn’t been collecting abortion-related data for 10 years. The task force, created in 2013 to study the sharp increase in maternal deaths in the state around the early 2010s, receives and is supposed to track information about every death during pregnancy or within a year after pregnancy. It’s currently reviewing pregnancy deaths from 2021, which is the first year the task force is analyzing its data since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in 2022—and also the year that Texas’ SB 8, the civilly enforced abortion ban took effect.

According to the Chronicle, in the midst of reviewing 2021 data, the task force realized that for the last decade of its existence, they have not been receiving data about abortion, which could include cases involving unsafe self-managed abortions or maternal deaths caused by being denied abortion. This is despite Texas state law requiring providers to report all abortion-related complications including mortality to the state Health Department. During the committee’s public meeting on Friday, task force chair Dr. Carla Ortique said the committee was once “confident” that they reviewed all maternal deaths “regardless of pregnancy outcome,” including abortion, but the committee recently learned this hasn’t been the case. The task force’s vice-chair, Dr. Patrick Ramsey, affirmed that abortion data “is not shared with this committee.”

Procedural abortion and self-managed abortion with pills are both highly safe and have low complication rates, especially if people can access accurate and comprehensive information about how to safely take abortion pills. It’s concerning that the task force is receiving incomplete information about pregnancy deaths—specifically, not receiving data about cases involving abortion—amid the state’s total abortion ban and the horrific, well-documented impacts these laws are having on maternal outcomes. 

As numerous experts and health care workers have pointed out, in the coming years, it will be difficult to track maternal deaths caused by being denied abortion. Pregnant people might not imminently die but could face severe complications that decrease their life span or exacerbate other life-threatening health conditions. Moving forward, tracking maternal mortality due to being denied abortion could be a crucial step toward making sense of how abortion bans are impacting maternal health—and Texas’s Maternal Mortality Task Force has already not been doing that for years.

A study from 2021 projected that a national abortion ban could lead to 21% more pregnancy-related deaths across the country. The study’s authors said this is likely an undercount as they did not factor in deaths from complications from unsafe self-managed abortions. Texas, in particular, faces a lawsuit from over a dozen women who say that being denied emergency abortion care or receiving extremely delayed abortion care for unsafe, nonviable pregnancies put their lives at risk. 

Ortique said at the meeting that she hopes the general public will “understand the importance of engaging in efforts to ensure that the work of this committee is able to continue and will raise their voices.” But it’s not immediately clear what steps the task force will take to ensure it’s tracking abortion-related data. The state Department of Health and Human Services press office did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Jezebel on the task force’s plans moving forward.

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