Texas Handmaids protest maternal mortality rate

Protesters gathered outside the governor's mansion Saturday evening to hold a candlelight vigil in honor of Texas mothers who have died while pregnant or in the postpartum year. Texas' maternal mortality rate spiked in 2012 prompting the state to form a Maternal Mortality and Morbidity Task Force to examine the causes. A recent study in the journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology found that the spike was largely due to a reporting error, but only examined data from that year. Lawmakers and activists alike are concerned the findings will push the state of maternal health in Texas to the back burner.

"The reality is that over half of all Texas mothers depend on Medicaid for their healthcare. We are here this Mother's Day weekend to remind Governor Abbott who he is hurting when he continues to turn away the federal Medicaid expansion and keep Planned Parenthood out of the list of Texas providers. He is happy making his ideological point even if it risks the lives of Texas mothers. How can he say he's pro-life?" says Texas Handmaids organizer Stephanie Martin.

Protesters dressed in red robes and white bonnets with some in black funeral attire like the characters from the Hulu series, 'The Handmaid's Tale." In the show and book by the same name, women are forced to bear children and wear red robes after a religious coup turns America into a theocracy. Protesters wear the costume to draw comparisons between fiction and reality as Governor Abbott and the Republican-controlled Texas legislature focuses on expanding abortion restrictions instead of developing policies to improve reproductive health outcomes for women.

"We are demanding the governor walk the talk-- if he is really pro-life, he should support the health and lives of Texas women during pregnancy, childbirth, and early motherhood by demanding the legislature fund all the recommendations of the Maternal Mortality Task Force in the next session," said organizer Elizabeth Ballew.

According to Martin, the 2016 Task Force report outlined six recommendations that haven’t been enacted including improving reporting data quality, expanding Medicaid, expanding health services in the postpartum year and addressing the racial disparities in maternal outcomes through provider training.

"This is a health crisis that disproportionately impacts African-American women. Providers need to believe women when they report symptoms during pregnancy and afterward if we are to have health and justice for Texas mothers," Martin says.