High rates of death during pregnancy inspires house bill

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JEFFERSON CITY - The Missouri House of Representatives discussed a bill on Tuesday morning that would address the state's high maternal mortality rates. 

The bill would require medical centers to report maternal mortality rates to the Department of Health and Senior Services upon request.

"The board would look at just the maternal deaths: why they're happening, what are the causes, what factors led to them. Then make recommendations for how to reduce this high death rate," Missouri House Rep. Sarah Unsicker, D-Shrewsbury, said.

House Bill 664, also called the "Healthy Mothers Initiative," was designed to improve data collection on maternal mortality and support groups with risks of death caused by pregnancy. 

"This board had done one report only, and that was about five years ago. It was very outdated when it was released to the public, and maternal mortality rates have gone up since then," Unsicker said. 

The bill would also give protection to board members for information they get from the reports. Board members would also receive immunity from lawsuits against information they find in reports. 

"We have a pretty high maternal mortality rate in Missouri," Unsicker said.

According to the CDC WONDER Online Database, the number of maternal deaths in Missouri increased from about 29 deaths per 100,000 births to about 33 deaths per 100,000 deaths between 2016 and 2018.

The national number of maternal deaths increased from about 20 deaths per 100,000 births to about 21 deaths per 100,000 births between the same two years. 

Research by the CDC shows that black women have a higher rate of dying during childbirth than white women. 

"Black mothers have a death rate more than twice as high as white women, which is really a problem. We need to address those deaths specifically," Unsicker said.

The CDC WONDER Online Database shows that there are about 65 deaths for every 100,000 live births by black women in Missouri. This is higher than the national average. 

Unsicker said there are a variety of reasons for this.

"Some of it is stresses of daily life. For black women, it's stresses from racism and from what they work through daily. That stress makes being pregnant for harder on their body," Unsicker said. 

As a mother, Unsicker said her second pregnancy was difficult and her son was born early. 

"Pregnancy and childbirth is an important issue to me as a mother. I want every mom to be safe when they give birth,” Unsicker said. 

She said the Missouri House and Senate need to pass this bill now.

"Our rates are rising. We need to bring them down. This is a key indicator of health in Missouri and throughout the world," Unsicker said.

Next, the bill will go to the Rules Committee then to the House floor and the Senate.