Preventing Deaths of Expectant and New Mothers

Alarmed that the US is the most dangerous affluent country in which to give birth, state and local lawmakers around the country are adopting a flurry of bipartisan bills aimed at reforming how maternal deaths are identified and investigated.

In Indiana earlier this month, Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb signed a bill creating a maternal mortality review committee to scrutinize deaths and near-deaths among expectant and new mothers and make policy recommendations to improve maternal health.

Oregon’s governor and Washington, DC’s mayor, both Democrats, are expected to sign similar legislation in the coming days. Proposals are pending in Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Maryland and New Jersey.

Legislators from several of these states credited the ProPublica/NPR “Lost Mothers” series with raising their awareness and concern about the issue. Maryland Delegate Jheanelle Wilkins, who introduced a bill there, said that the series, especially articles looking at why black mothers are at greatest risk of dying and nearly dying, inspired her and her fellow lawmakers.

“A friend of mine posted one of the stories on Facebook and she challenged her elected officials — Who’s going to do something about it?” Wilkins said.

About 35 states have now established review committees or are in the process of doing so, as well as four cities: New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington. Two federal bills introduced last year, which would create a grant program to help states introduce or improve review committees, remain stalled in committee.

Between 700 and 900 women die each year in the US from causes related to pregnancy or childbirth, and the rate has risen even as it has declined in other wealthy countries. The rate of life-threatening complications has also soared since the 1990s, endangering more than 50,000 US women a year. A new report by the CDC Foundation — a nonprofit created by Congress to support the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — suggests that more than 60…

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