Legislation to better track maternal morbidity sent to Shapiro to become law

HARRISBURG, June 22 – The Pennsylvania Women’s Health Caucus today applauded the unanimous House passage of legislation that would ensure proper data collection on maternal morbidity as lawmakers work to reduce the alarming number of pregnancy-related deaths in the state. The bill now heads to Gov. Josh Shapiro for his signature.

Introduced by Women’s Health Caucus co-chair Sen. Judy Schwank, the legislation (S.B. 262) would require the Pennsylvania Department of Health to report severe maternal morbidities. It mirrors legislation authored by state Rep. Morgan Cephas and is a key part of the WHC’s efforts to end maternal mortality and improve maternal health outcomes in the state.

"We have a moral obligation to do everything in our power to end maternal morbidity and mortality in Pennsylvania,” said Schwank, D-Berks. “Passing S.B. 262 is a crucial first step and something the Women's Health Caucus members can be proud of, but we recognize that there is still so much more we can do in this area. I believe the overwhelming support S.B. 262 received opens the door for more maternal health legislation to flow through the legislature this session."

Cephas said the U.S. has a shameful and tragic maternal mortality record. CDC data shows that in 2020, the U.S. averaged 23.8 deaths per 100,000 births, which is nearly three times higher than the next poorest-performing industrialized nation. From 2018 to 2020, maternal mortality rates increased in the U.S. by 6.4 deaths per 100,000 births. Additionally, in 2020 alone, maternal mortality among Latinas increased by a shocking 44%.

“Maternal mortality rates are trending in the wrong direction and it’s getting worse each year,” said Cephas, D-Phila. “The first step in combating the problem is proper data collection. Accurate and regular tracking is essential for comprehensive research on this complex medical issue. We need to fully understand the outcomes of all birthing people as we work to improve maternal care and maternal health outcomes.” 

WHC co-chair Rep. Mary Jo Daley said better reporting will inform health institutions and policymakers on the types of care that are needed and where more pregnancy-related professionals are required in the state.

“We in the legislature have received a lot of testimony over the years from professionals who are on the frontlines of maternal care,” said Daley, D-Montgomery. “While we know a lot about the problem, and we have legislative solutions, we don’t have what’s often needed to convince the entire General Assembly of the need for more support – the clear data. This bill provides us that data.”

WHC co-chair Sen. Amanda Cappelletti said the caucus considers the bill the first step in their legislative agenda for maternal health.

“I’m thrilled to see the House is making progress on big issues in maternal health, and the passage of Senate Bill 262 is just the beginning,” said Cappelletti, D-Montgomery/Delaware. “As the Women’s Health Caucus, we will continue to advance solutions for Pennsylvania’s families. Our next step must prioritize making healthcare more affordable and accessible, by ensuring doula services – which are vital for ensuring positive birthing outcomes – are available for reimbursement through Medicaid.”

In April the House Majority Policy Committee held a public hearing during Black Maternal Health Week to deepen the conversation about Black maternal outcomes. Black women are three times more likely to die from pregnancy complications than white women. Testimony from that hearing gave a roadmap the legislature could take to eliminate disparities in care for Black mothers and, in effect, improve care for all mothers.

WHC co-chair Rep. Gina H. Curry said the May death of Olympic track and field champion Tori Bowie highlighted the need to collect such data. An autopsy report released by the Orange County, Fla., Medical Examiner's Office listed natural causes for her death, but Bowie, 32, died of eclampsia or respiratory distress while in labor. She was eight months pregnant.

“Tori Bowie’s tragic death shows that a person’s social or economic situation does not matter in our nation’s maternal mortality crisis, especially for Black women,” said Curry, D-Delaware. “Tori’s birthing journey should not have ended in the way it did. Most pregnancy-related complications are treatable if detected. The more data we collect the better prepared we’ll be to ensure that all people, no matter where they live or what they look like, have the research, resources and support behind them as they move through their birthing journey.”  

The Women’s Health Caucus legislative agenda can be found here.