According to a new study published in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology, the number of women who died in Texas from pregnancy-related complications is less than half of what was originally estimated in a much-covered 2016 study.
Using an “enhanced method,” the Texas Maternal Mortality and Morbidity Task Force—established by the state in 2013 to study the issue—found that the maternal death rate in 2012 was not the 146 previously reported, but closer to 56, or “14.6 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births.” Those numbers, the study’s authors write, are “less than half that obtained using the standard method.” The Texas Tribune reports that the enhanced method cross-references “birth certificates, death certificates, hospital discharge data and medical records to confirm that a woman who died was pregnant before she died.” The new study also accounted for errors in Texas’s method of reporting maternal deaths.
The Tribune reports:
The study said the state’s 2012 maternal death numbers inflated the number of women 35 and older who were classified as a maternal death and included reporting errors in which women who had not been pregnant were reported as maternal deaths. The researchers said they also found 2012 deaths that were not included in the state’s original maternal death numbers.
The study’s authors note that their enhanced method is a standard methodology in other states.
The 2016 study, also published in Obstetrics & Gynecology, found that “after 2010, the reported maternal mortality rate for Texas doubled within a 2-year period to levels not seen in other U.S. states.” Between 2011-2012, the study found that Texas’s maternal mortality rate doubled, part of a concerning overall increase in maternal deaths nationwide. The 2016 study was reported by numerous outlets, including Jezebel, as women’s health advocates raised questions about why Texas’s maternal mortality rate was so high. The answer seems to be in faulty reporting from the state itself, a problem that plagues the country as a whole.
Still, even after state health officials applied the enhanced method, readjusting the state’s 2012 maternal mortality numbers down by more than half, the number of maternal deaths in Texas remains concerning, particularly for black women, a demographic that is disproportionately affected. While the most recent study found the overall rate of 14.6 deaths per 100,000 live births, the rate for black women was nearly double at 27.8 per 100,000 live births, according to the study.
Texas’s high rate of maternal mortality among black women tracks with the country as a whole. A lengthy series from ProPublica found that, across the United States, “black mothers are three to four times more likely to die than white mother.”
In order to better understand the numbers, Texas Maternal Mortality and Morbidity Task Force said that they will use the new enhanced method to recalculate maternal mortality rates for additional years.