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Pa. set to study pregnancy and birth complications, with goal of healthier outcomes

 Marianne Fray, CEO of Maternity Care Coalition, discusses the importance of investing in maternal-child health, in Harrisburg, PA on May 25, 2022.
Commonwealth Media Services
Marianne Fray, CEO of Maternity Care Coalition, discusses the importance of investing in maternal-child health, in Harrisburg, PA on May 25, 2022.

Earlier this year, a group of Democratic lawmakers said the rate of deaths of expecting mothers is one of the top concerns in Pennsylvania.

Sen. Judy Schwank of Berks County touted a package of bills aimed at addressing the issues that lead to poor pregnancy and birth outcomes. One of them is now poised to become law.

The measure intends to improve how the state gathers data on different health conditions and environmental factors that lead to risky pregnancies and births. Both the Senate and House passed it unanimously, and it is now headed to Gov. Josh Shapiro, who is likely to sign it.

Maternal morbidity refers to any short-term or long-term health condition that leads to pregnancy and birth complications. The bill would add “severe maternal morbidity” to the Department of Health’s list of reportable events.

The department would then publish annual severe maternal morbidity data. A Maternal Mortality Review Committee, which was established in 2018, would send findings and recommendations to health officials and the public every year.

“This information serves as a vital tool for monitoring and surveillance, identifying risk factors, improving healthcare quality, and evaluating interventions,” said Aasta Mehta, medical officer of Women’s Health for the Philadelphia Department of Public Health, in a statement. “By understanding the patterns and causes of severe complications during pregnancy and childbirth, we can develop targeted strategies to reduce maternal morbidity rates and enhance the overall well-being of birthing people.”

Pennsylvania ranks 26th among states for maternal mortality rates. A 2022 report from the Pennsylvania Maternal Mortality Review Committee found that the state has an overall pregnancy-associated mortality ratio of 82 deaths per 100,000 live births. The report also found that Black Non-Hispanic people had the highest ratio of 163 per 100,000 live births.

The United States has the highest maternal mortality rate among wealthy nations. Black women in the U.S. have a rate 2.6 times higher than White women, according to the CDC.

Democratic Rep. Morgan Cephas of Philadelphia County, the sponsor of the House version of the bill, says the measure will help lawmakers tasked with creating policies to help lower those rates.

Cephas said the data can be used to help people avoid outcomes like preterm births, C-sections and postpartum complications.

Gabriela Martínez | WITF