We’ll never really know, mostly because there’s no one with the power to compel an answer from those who do know that cares enough to use that power.
State health officials had completed a long-awaited report on maternal deaths and were preparing talking points about the findings just days before it was shelved until after the November midterms, according to emails obtained by Hearst Newspapers.
The messages suggest that the agency was moving toward a required Sept. 1 release of the state’s first updated count of pregnancy-related deaths in nearly a decade.
On Sept. 2, however, then-Commissioner John Hellerstedt, an appointee of Gov. Greg Abbott, said the agency needed more time to complete the analysis.
The last-minute delay infuriated maternal health experts who have spent years pressing the state to update its sluggish data review process. Members of the state’s Maternal Mortality and Morbidity Review Committee, which analyzes pregnancy-related deaths, said they were given no heads up about the announcement.
Advocates have since accused Gov. Abbott of instigating the delay in an effort to protect his re-election chances in the midterms.
Some of the strongest condemnation over the hold-up has come from the Black community, where women are three times more likely to die from childbirth than white women. This year’s report would be the state’s first to analyze the causes behind racial disparities among those who die during or after childbirth.
While it’s true that the agency had not completed a full count as of September, as Hellerstedt said, a draft preliminary report on the majority of 2019 deaths was finished and in the final stages of editing, according to the emails. It has been the agency’s practice for years to release findings even before a full analysis is completed, in an effort to speed up public health interventions.
Agency staff were sharing final versions of the draft as late as Aug. 24, according to the emails.
Earlier that month, the health agency had been preparing to brief Abbott’s office and state legislators about the report’s findings.
See here for the background. There are answers to this question – they may vary depending on who is being asked, but they do exist. The problem is that no one who is being asked cares to answer, and no one who wants that answer has the power to make them give one. The people who do have that power – certainly the Legislature and maybe the Attorney General – don’t care any more about it than Greg Abbott does. So, unless someone like former Commissioner Hellerstedt starts telling tales out of school, we’ll never know. In the meantime, we may finally get that report as soon as this coming week, so at least we have that going for us.