The Latest: On November 2, on behalf of the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine (SMFM)—a national organization comprised of more 5,500 maternal-fetal medicine (“MFM”) subspecialists, 442 of whom practice in Texas—Democracy Forward sent a letter to the Texas Department of State Health Services (“DSHS”) and the Maternal Mortality and Morbidity Review Committee (“MMMRC”) to request they comply with Texas law by releasing the Joint Report containing the MMMRC’s findings and recommendations to address the state’s maternal health crisis as soon as possible and no later than November 10, 2022.
Should the state continue to withhold the report in violation of Texas law, the letter informs the state that “SMFM will consider all available options, including seeking legal remedies” to compel its release. By law, the report was required to be released on September 1, 2022. By refusing to release this joint report, the state has been in violation of the law for more than two months. Read the press release.
Texas faces a maternal health crisis and has one of the ten highest rates of maternal mortality in the country. What’s more, pregnant Black women in Texas die at around three times the rate of other women, according to existing state data. MMMRC, an advisory body administered by DSHS and composed of medical and public health experts and other maternal health advocates, meets at least quarterly and studies and reviews cases of pregnancy-related deaths in Texas, as well as “trends, rates, or disparities in pregnancy-related deaths and severe maternal morbidity.”
On September 13, 2022, the Houston Chronicle published a report that the September 1, 2022 release of maternal mortality data would be delayed until summer of 2023, after the midterms and the next biennial legislative session. According to reports, the delay of this report means that the analysis won’t be available until the 2025 legislative cycle. Historically, the Texas State Legislature relies on recommendations from the report to advance legislation that address the maternal health crisis in Texas. This was expected to be the first major updated count of pregnancy related deaths in nearly a decade.
Members of the Texas legislature previously asked DSHS to reconsider its decision to delay the release of the Joint Report. In response, DSHS again did not commit to a date certain by which it will remedy its ongoing violation of Texas law. Instead, they indicated only that DSHS would discuss its continued withholding of this critical maternal health data at the MMMRC’s December 8, 2022 meeting and that it intends “to provide data and recommendations timely to help inform efforts during the 88th Legislative Session.”
In September and October, Democracy Forward sought records and communications regarding the report’s delay from DSHS, MMMRC, and Gov. Abbott. On November 1, 2022 the Office of Governor Greg Abbott informed Democracy Forward it would invoke all exceptions to the Texas Public Information Act and sought an advisory opinion from Texas Attorney General Paxton to endorse its decision to withhold documents. Just a day later, DSHS informed Democracy Forward it was following suit. After six weeks, DSHS has provided no documents and no estimate of when, if ever, it will.