Sen. Judy Schwank, D-Berks, (Capital-Star photo by Elizabeth Hardison)
With a Democratic majority in the House for the first time in more than a decade, and a Democrat occupying the governor’s mansion, lawmakers appear poised to seriously address the ongoing maternal mortality crisis in Pennsylvania.
In his first budget address to state lawmakers last week, Gov. Josh Shapiro said that “for the first time” the commonwealth is going to put “real resources” into studying the root causes of Pennsylvania’s high maternal mortality rate, which is three times higher for Black women.
A 2022 report from the Pennsylvania Maternal Mortality Review Committee, which reviews all maternal deaths in the commonwealth, found that Pennsylvania had an overall pregnancy-associated mortality ratio (PAMR) of 82 deaths per 100,000 live births. Non-Hispanic Blacks had the highest PAMR of 163 per 100,000 live births.
“Here in this Commonwealth, and throughout the country, rates of maternal mortality are rising,” Shapiro said. “We shouldn’t accept that. … We can’t accept that.”
Shapiro’s proposed spending plan for the new fiscal year that starts July 1 would allocate $2.3 million to expand existing maternal health programming and prevention strategies aimed at reducing the commonwealth’s maternal mortality rate.
State lawmakers on both sides of the aisle in the House and Senate praised Shapiro’s proposed investment in addressing the issue.
Following the budget address on Tuesday, state Rep. Marla Brown, R-Lawrence, who is on the House Health Committee, said in a statement that she was “pleased” that the proposed spending plan invests in healthy pregnancies and deliveries.
State Sen. Judy Schwank, D-Berks, who co-chairs the Legislature’s Women’s Health Caucus, applauded the investment in initiatives to address maternal mortality, and noted that the caucus has been “working on these initiatives for years.”
“It’s shameful,” Schwank said, adding that maternal deaths “should not be happening in this country.”
In January, Schwank, who called the issue of maternal mortality “dear to her heart,” announced that she would reintroduce legislation — SB 262 — to add “severe maternal morbidity” to the Department of Health’s list of reportable events.
The bill would require the Maternal Mortality Review Committee to share each reportable event with the department.
“Accurate and regular tracking of data is essential for the comprehensive research on maternal mortality in the Commonwealth,” Schwank wrote in a co-sponsorship memorandum seeking legislative support for the bill.
Schwank has also reintroduced a bill, SB 335, which would extend Medicaid coverage to Doula services.
In her co-sponsorship memo, Schwank said that expanding access to maternal care, including through doulas, who are trained to provide physical and emotional support during childbirth and postpartum, is “imperative” to reducing Pennsylvania’s high maternal mortality rate, especially in regions of the commonwealth that lack maternal health care providers.
At a press conference earlier this month, members of the Women’s Health Caucus gathered in Harrisburg to share their priorities for the 2023-24 legislative session.
Chief among them, addressing the maternal mortality crisis, safeguarding reproductive rights, and expanding access and equity in health care.
Over the last year, the caucus has conducted hearings across Pennsylvania to hear from experts and community stakeholders about maternal mortality, reproductive rights, and health care inequities in hope of developing informed policies and initiatives.
“We’re going to start working on that and making a difference here in the Commonwealth,” Schwank said last Tuesday.
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