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Unsafe Abortions Will Not Be Counted In Maternal Deaths

A committee that tracks maternal deaths in Texas will not be allowed to count those resulting from abortions.

According to The Houston Chronicle, the Texas Maternal Mortality and Morbidity Review Committee is barred from counting any “voluntary or therapeutic termination of pregnancy.” The members of the committee, formed in 2013 by order of the state legislature, said they were unaware of the prohibition. A spokesperson from the Texas Department of State Health Services, which collects the data and oversees the committee, told The Houston Chronicle that abortions were omitted the same as would be car accidents that kill pregnant people.

Not being able to include abortion deaths is the latest in a long series of obstacles for the Maternal Mortality and Morbidity Review. Ever since the repeal of constitutional protections for reproduction choice in Dobbs v. Jackson in 2021, physicians and activists have been worried about a resurgence of deaths and injuries from self-induced or illegally obtained abortions. In the days before the right to an abortion was protected, pregnant people would often insert wires or other objects through the cervix, puncturing the amniotic sac but risking potentially deadly infection. For this reason, the coathanger has become a symbol of abortion access resistance.

By barring the study of abortion related deaths, the Review’s work will not reflect any increase from self-induced abortions following Texas’s near-total ban on legal pregnancy termination. This would have the benefit of hiding the effects of the law that activists and opponents most feared.

“It’s my hope,” committee chair Dr. Carla Ortique said at a March 22 meeting, “that members of the public, the media, professional organizations, community organizations, and all that recognize that the preventable death of a mother is unacceptable will hear these updates, understand the importance of engaging in efforts to ensure that the work of this committee is able to continue and will raise their voices as deemed appropriate.”

A new budget rider passed by the legislature in 2023 also bars the committee from participating in a nation-wide survey on maternal deaths. This could mean that pregnant people who flee the state for care might not be counted in the rolls either. Multiple people have said they left the state to terminate unsafe pregnancies when they could not obtain one in Texas, despite current law supposedly allowing for the procedure if medically necessary.

In 2022, a long-awaited report from the committee was delayed until, after the November midterm elections. Though the Department of State Health Services claimed the reason was a lack of staff and resources, many suspected that the reason was political, and that Republicans wanted to keep the state’s escalating maternal death count from hurting them after passing  their six-week abortion ban.

Even without all the data, Texas has one of the highest maternal death rates in the country. The state says a 28.1 per 100,000 maternal death rate. The national average is only 23.5. For Black Texans, that number is even higher. Either way, the figures do not reflect an important part of maternal mortality thanks to an effort to keep the consequences of an abortion ban out of the equation by the Texas legislature. 

Jef Rouner
Jef Rouner
Jef Rouner is an award-winning freelance journalist, the author of The Rook Circle, and a member of The Black Math Experiment. He lives in Houston where he spends most of his time investigating corruption and strange happenings. Jef has written for Houston Press, Free Press Houston, and Houston Chronicle.


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