Texas’s ban on abortions after six weeks has been in effect for about a year now, since the U.S. Supreme Court decided, from the shadow docket, to let it happen. Since then, the Court has overturned federal abortion protections, and Texas’s near-total ban has been enacted. Now it appears that Republican Gov. Greg Abbott’s administration is actively covering up any deaths that have occurred because of the forced birth laws.
The House Chronicle reports that the state’s health officials missed a deadline to report the first major update of pregnancy-related deaths in the state in almost a decade. The report was supposed to have been issued on Sept. 1, but now has been delayed indefinitely. By “indefinitely,” Texas officials seem to mean “until after the election of 2022 and maybe the one in 2024.”
State lawmakers are working with nine-year-old data on maternal death, and now likely will be until the 2025 biennial legislative session because the state says it probably won’t be able to release the updated information until after next year’s session. Whether the Department of State Health Services (DSHS) is truly just sitting on the data, or the agency really doesn’t have enough staff and enough funding to have finished the review on time, as DSHS commissioner Dr. John Hellerstedt told the state’s Maternal Mortality and Morbidity Review Committee, the result is the same. The data isn’t available and won’t be for months, possibly longer.
“There are a lot of us that want to know whether or not pregnancy in Texas is a death sentence,” Democratic state Rep. Ann Johnson said of the delay. “If we’ve got a higher rate of maternal mortality, we sure want to figure it out. You can’t figure it out if somebody’s sitting on the numbers, and that’s my worry.”
Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa was less measured in response. “Let there be no doubt that Greg Abbott, Dan Patrick, Ken Paxton, and their Republican cronies are withholding this crucial data from Texans because it shows what we have cried out for decades: that restricting abortion care has horrific and fatal consequences for women.”
“By withholding this data from the Texas public who deserve to see it, Texas Republicans are hoping that we won’t be able to see the devastating impacts of their brutal, draconian, extreme abortion ban that has no exceptions for incest or rape,” Hinojosa continued. “We told you—these abortion bans will kill women.”
The state doesn’t have, or won’t release, the data, but researchers at University Hospital and Parkland Hospital—the safety net hospital for Dallas County—have made their findings public. Their sample size was small, because the time window was less than a year, and the patient cohort relatively small. But the finding was clear: the 6-week ban created an almost doubled risk for serious health complications because their doctors delayed care until they were about to die.
They looked at 28 patients with dangerous pregnancies less than 23 weeks along hospitalized from the time the 6-week ban was adopted in September through mid-May. The answers they got from that study—about 43% of patients had serious complications, including hemorrhage or infections, and 32% had to either be put in intensive care, receive a surgical abortion, or have repeated hospitalization.
The delayed treatment as a result of the law meant 57% of the patients had serious health complications. That’s double the number in states where patients are able to get abortions without being on death’s door. This is in an already vulnerable community of patients.
“Because of the intense politicization of these issues nationally, some have questioned, ‘What does the threat of death have to be?’ and ‘How imminent must it be?’” the study reads. “As large academic medical centers prepare to navigate the potential for loss of access to services, more questions are raised than answers.”
There won’t be answers forthcoming from the state, and hospitals and providers will be put in the position of tracking and publicizing the information, exposing the deaths that the Republican leadership in the state is trying to cover up.
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