By Elisha Brown
The latest toll from the United States maternal mortality crisis is staggering: In 2021, 1,205 women died from pregnancy-related causes, according to data released this month by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics.
That means there were 32.9 maternal deaths for every 100,000 live births during the second year of the coronavirus pandemic, the CDC found. Reproductive health experts I spoke to for States Newsroom said the numbers, which have steadily increased in recent years, were disappointing but not surprising.
One solution to reducing maternal mortality rates: expanding continuous postpartum Medicaid coverage from 60 days to 12 months. So far, 30 states and Washington, D.C. have been approved by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to extend those benefits for low-income, new mothers to a year.
Access through extended coverage for new mothers, especially after the federal right to abortion under Roe was overturned last summer with the Dobbs decision, could help people tackle the myriad health conditions that pop up during pregnancy and after childbirth: diabetes, hypertension, substance abuse or mental health issues, according to Maggie Clark, program director at the Georgetown University Center for Women and Families in Washington, D.C.
Nine states are waiting on federal approval, while efforts to expand postpartum Medicaid are moving along legislatively in eight states. Still, lawmakers in Idaho, Iowa and Nebraska either shelved the proposal or related bills appear unlikely to move this year. Idaho bans most abortions, Iowa has a blocked six-week ban and Nebraska is pushing abortion restrictions through the legislature.
THE BEAT States Newsroom coverage
Idaho tables postpartum Medicaid expansion bill
Idaho is one of the few states with abortion bans that has yet to expand continuous postpartum Medicaid coverage to a full year. The chairman of the Idaho House Health and Welfare Committee, Republican Rep. John Vander Woude, said a bill that would do so won’t move out of committee before the session adjourns. Vander Woude noted that he had about 30 voicemails and numerous emails supporting the bill but said his concerns with the overall budget need to be addressed first.
For families, Medicaid benefits are critical. “If you’re going to take (abortion access) from us and you want us to have babies, I think you have to take care of the women and children,” Erin Singer, an Idaho mother-of-two, told States Newsroom National Reproductive Rights Reporter Kelcie Moseley-Morris. In 2017, Singer found out she was pregnant days before a rheumatologist told her she likely had an autoimmune disease that leads to abnormal blood clotting. Without Medicaid coverage, she would have needed to terminate her pregnancy, she told Kelcie.
Nearly half of U.S. births are covered by Medicaid. Idaho’s maternal mortality rate was 23.5 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2020, up from 18.1 in 2019, Kelcie reports. Eight of the 11 women who died in 2020 — or 72% — were covered by Medicaid. Lawmakers also gutted the Maternal Mortality Review Committee, set to shutter in July. The decision makes Idaho the lone state without a committee to review maternal deaths, according to Hillarie Hagen, health policy associate for the advocacy group Idaho Voices for Children.
Infant formula industry still shaky post-crisis, former FDA official says
Heightened government regulation of infant formula manufacturers could prevent another infant formula crisis, according to experts who testified before a U.S. House Oversight and Accountability Committee subcommittee Tuesday, our D.C. Bureau Senior Reporter Jennifer Shutt reported. For instance, formula companies are not required to notify the Food and Drug Administration if certain types of bacteria are detected at their facilities. Frank Yiannas, former deputy commissioner of the FDA Office of Food Policy & Response, said “the nation remains one outbreak, one tornado, one flood, or cyberattack away from finding itself in a similar place to that of February 17, 2022.”
During the hearing, Republican and Democratic leadership criticized the FDA’s response to the crisis, which led to two infant deaths. Peter Lurie, president and executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, said the blame lay with Abbott Nutrition, owner of the Michigan facility where a bacteria outbreak occurred last year.
Current FDA leadership did not testify at the hearing, but FDA Commissioner Robert Califf told Congress last year he found no evidence of intentional delay by the manufacturer, even though it took months for his agency to address a whistleblower complaint who alleged working conditions at the plant were unsanitary.
Wisconsin bill could ban state employees from sharing abortion information
Less than one week away from a Wisconsin Supreme Court election that could determine the future of abortion rights in the state, Republican lawmakers are piloting a bill that would bar government employees from promoting, providing or facilitating abortion services, according to Wisconsin Examiner. State law already bans state funds from being used for abortions, but the proposal aims to go further by potentially barring state employees from even speaking about abortion in a work capacity.
Democratic state Sen. Kelda Roys told the Examiner the bill is an unconstitutional ploy to “gag free speech.” Roys frequently posts information about abortion access on her website. She also criticized a part of the bill that bans abortion-related activities on public property. “Does that mean that I cannot, if I get a call from a constituent who says, ‘Hey, you know, is abortion legal in Wisconsin or anywhere else in the country?’ I can’t give her accurate information about that, because I’m in my Capitol office? Does that mean I can’t talk about what medication abortion is… from my state government Twitter account or Facebook page?”
THE PULL Commentary from Michigan
“A survey last year found the large cities college students want to live in after they graduate are those located mostly in blue states that offer more protections for abortion and the rights of LGBTQ+ people. Among them were Seattle, Denver, Chicago and Minneapolis. Detroit didn’t make the cut.” – Rick Haglund, columnist, Michigan Advance
THE PULSE Reproductive rights news across the country
- A Montana bill would ban Medicaid funding for abortions, save to terminate pregnancies that risk the mother’s life or are a result of rape or incest. (Daily Montanan.)
- Also in Montana: A Republican representative introduced a bill that would allow health care providers to refuse treating patients based on moral fiber. (Daily Montanan.)
- A primer on the opponents and supporters of the proposed Ohio abortion rights amendment. (Ohio Capital Journal.)
- The Texas House passed a measure Tuesday that aims to make menstrual products, diapers, baby wipes and the like tax-free. (Texas Tribune.)
- More from Texas: the Legislature is working to discipline prosecutors, especially those who have declined to pursue abortion cases. (Texas Tribune.)
STATE BY STATE Abortion access in the U.S.
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