Editorial: Maternal deaths deserve greater scrutiny

The United States should not have the highest rate of maternal deaths in the developed world. Yet that is the reality women in America now face. Here, the rate of mothers who die from pregnancy-related complications has risen since 2000, even as the rate in other countries has declined.

Recent reporting by NPR and ProPublica has highlighted the extent of the problem, including how a focus on infants’ health can cause providers to overlook what’s afflicting their mothers.

Responding to this escalating women’s health crisis should be a top priority for government officials. To that end, Congress recently did the right thing by passing a bill that aims to get to the root of why U.S. mothers are dying from pregnancy-related causes an estimated 700 to 900 times per year. The president signed the bill Friday.

The Preventing Maternal Deaths Act is a first step, but an important one. Sponsored by Republican U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler of Battle Ground, the bill provides $12 million per year to support state maternal mortality review committees, which can investigate and gather data on every maternal death that occurs.

This kind of data-gathering matters because most maternal deaths are preventable, health experts say. Investigating what went wrong in each case can inform best practices at hospitals across the country, helping to keep more women alive.

“Currently the available data is woefully inadequate, which hinders our ability to find out why moms are dying,” Herrera Beutler said during a speech on the House floor. She said better data could also help diagnose why black women and women in rural areas die from pregnancy-rated causes at much higher rates.

Addressing this problem would mean many more women getting to see their children grow up. Thousands more children would grow up knowing their mothers.

The president and members of Congress deserve criticism for their inability to tackle many important issues, such as keeping the government open. But at least by enacting this law in 2018, they have come together to give U.S. mothers a better chance of survival.