Expert Relates Teen Pregnancy Research To Maternal Mortality


Written by: Justin Ikpo (cehdcomm@tamu.edu)
Post date: August 09, 2017

Texas lawmakers passed a number of bills during the Texas Special Session in the hopes of improving on one of the state’s most significant issues facing mothers. Senate Bill 17 was passed on July 24 and permitted a special task force to increase research and investigative efforts toward the state’s growing maternal mortality rates from 2019 to 2023.

By the end of July, the Texas House passed four additional bills — House Bills 9, 10, 11, and 28 — that would further support the goals of SB 17 through an expansion of resources.  

Texas currently has the highest maternal mortality rate than any other state. A recent study showed that mortality rates nearly doubled from 2010 to 2012, with a significant amount of mothers dying within a year after childbirth. Though a number of factors attribute to the statistics, some experts believe that more can be done to aid this vulnerable population.

Dr. Kelly Wilson, associate professor in health education and co-principal investigator for the Innovative Teen Pregnancy Prevention Programs (iTP3), conducts research on pregnancy prevention for youth in communities across Texas. She explained some of the complexities regarding maternal mortality.

“Reproductive healthcare is a sensitive topic for many, especially in Texas,” Dr. Wilson said. “When reproductive health care and sexual health topics are mentioned, people automatically think about their values and beliefs leaving conversations about prevention and support for systematically improving maternal health ignored.”

 Dr. Wilson said at least a quarter of maternal deaths are linked to heart disease; however, they are also linked to other chronic conditions and populations that experience health and educational disparities.

“Early prenatal care is important but over 30 percent of births had prenatal care begin after the second trimester,” she said. “Texas needs high quality maternal and child health programs and they also need to be sharing information and access to health services that allow young women to make reproductive healthcare choices.”

Young women with unplanned pregnancies who are ill equipped with adequate resources often face these disparities.

“Almost half of teen mothers, in particular, live below the poverty line and rely on public assistance to some extent,” she said. “Teen mothers experience decreased economic opportunities and earnings subsequent to their pregnancy and having a baby.”

SB 17 charges the task force to address these rates, document the data, and find ways to combat challenges women face including postpartum depression. Dr. Wilson highlighted the important role pregnancy prevention education has amongst young women.

“Unplanned pregnancies carry a broad array of social, economic, and health risks to women and men, to children, and the larger community. Pregnancy planning increases the overall educational status of women and communities, advances the health and well-being of the woman, her future children, and her family,” she said.

While each of the Senate and House Bills focuses on improving the statewide mortality numbers, Dr. Wilson believes that properly educating young women about their health and pregnancy prevention issues, can help shape the overall narrative within communities.

“Supporting the programs goes a long way in supporting teens, teen mothers and preventing subsequent pregnancies,” she said. “Programs like these provide the opportunity for skill development in adulthood preparation topics that influence their relationship skills, decision-making skills, and other topics such as financial literacy.”

SB 17 is currently awaiting House approval.