Across the United States, women are dying from preventable pregnancy and childbirth-related complications — and New Mexico is working to change that.

Pregnant women and new moms face unique challenges: access to prenatal and postnatal care, childbirth complications, depression and anxiety, financial hardship, and adjusting to the role of motherhood and caring for another human being.

For some women, these challenges are more significant or more complicated than for others. According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Black and Native women are two to three times more likely than White women to die from pregnancy-related causes. These causes may include acute medical events such as hemorrhage and severe hypertension, or they may be attributed to societal factors and systemic racism impacting access to care, quality of care, or lack of insurance.

On April 4, 2021, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed Senate Bill 96 into law, which aims to address the intersecting issues of maternal mortality and equity in New Mexico. Specifically, SB 96 makes improvements to our state’s Maternal Mortality Review Committee, which was established in 2019 with the passage of the Maternal Mortality and Morbidity Prevention Act.

The committee is tasked with reviewing maternal deaths that occur during pregnancy or up to one year postpartum. Since the Committee began meeting in 2019, it has reviewed 58 maternal deaths (2015-17) and determined that 76 percent were preventable — meaning there was at least some chance of the death being averted by one or more reasonable changes to patient, community, provider, facility, or systems factors. The data from case reviews nationwide and in New Mexico suggest that with more knowledge, resources and coordination, some of these deaths could have been avoided.

As noted above, Native American and African-American women are disproportionately affected by pregnancy-related deaths. To address this challenge, SB 96 ensures that committee membership will be more diverse and representative of our communities, including permanent seats for the Office of African-American Affairs and the Department of Indian Affairs. In addition, the committee will include a wider range of medical professionals and community health workers for improved case review. Importantly, members will also be trained on trauma, including the trauma of racism and maternal mortality.

SB 96 is crucial legislation for our state — and it connects New Mexico to the CDC’s nationwide efforts to standardize maternal mortality data collection and create additional recommendations for case review committees. The evidence is clear: With a more diverse, inclusive, well-supported Maternal Mortality Review Committee, we can protect pregnant women and young families — and create a healthier New Mexico for all.

Aryan Showers is director of the Office of Policy and Accountability at the New Mexico Department of Health.

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