In 2011, Texas redirected taxpayer funds from Planned Parenthood to federally qualified health centers and other comprehensive healthcare providers. The next year, maternal mortality in Texas allegedly skyrocketed. Pro-lifers were immediately blamed. Planned Parenthood funding had been saving lives! Post hoc, ergo propter hoc!
That explanation was unsatisfying, because Planned Parenthood doesn't offer birth care. Nor would Planned Parenthood's provision of contraceptives explain it; FQHCs offer contraception too, and besides, the maternal mortality rate is calculated per 100,000 births, so it should be unaffected by changes to the pregnancy rate and birth rate.
So what was causing more Texas mothers to die? And what could the pro-life movement do to prevent these deaths?
Nothing — because in fact, the maternal mortality spike was an illusion. The Washington Post reports:
For the past few years, Texas’s maternal mortality rate was so high it seemed unbelievable.
As it turns out, according to a study released this week it was, indeed, not to be believed.
This week, the Texas Maternal Mortality and Morbidity Task Force released a study in Obstetrics & Gynecology that found the maternal morbidity figures from 2012 — which had Texas mothers dying at rates that shocked experts and the public — were based on sloppy and erroneous data collection.
So sloppy, in fact, that more than half of the deaths that were recorded as pregnancy-related that year were recorded that way in error.Specifically, the phantom mortality increase arose from changes to Texas death certificates, which resulted in more coroners incorrectly checking a box to indicate pregnancy-related death.
A recently published report combed through this data and determined that "after all of the data-collection errors were excluded, Texas’s 2012 maternal mortality rate was corrected from 38.4 deaths per 100,000 live births to 14.6 per 100,000 live births." That's considerably lower than the current (2015) national average of 26.4 deaths per 100,000 births. Put another way, not only did Planned Parenthood defunding not cause a spike in maternal mortality, it's actually safer to give birth in Texas than it is to give birth in the United States as a whole.
To be clear, even one pregnancy-related death is too many. None of this takes anything away from the fantastic pro-life initiatives, like Abide, that are working hard to improve the health of Texas mothers and babies. And as the Washington Post points out, the United States has a long way to go before it matches the maternal mortality rates of other developed countries.