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Final vote nears for bill to help DC study its high rate of pregnancy-related deaths

The D.C. Council is one step closer to figuring out why the city's maternal death rate is higher compared to states around the U.S., including its neighbors Maryland and Virginia. (Thinkstock)

WASHINGTON — The D.C. Council is one step closer to figuring out why the city’s maternal death rate is higher compared to states around the U.S., including its neighbors Maryland and Virginia.

Last week, a unanimous first vote took place to establish a Maternal Mortality Review Committee, which would study causes of pregnancy-related deaths in D.C. and look for ways to prevent them.

The committee would function as part of the Chief Medical Examiner’s Office. Ward 6 Council member Charles Allen said it would operate in a similar manner as the interdisciplinary committees that review deaths of all infants and children in the city, and look for ways to prevent them.

An average of 17 women died of pregnancy-related issues per 100,000 live births from 2005 to 2014, according to an October 2016 report in the peer-reviewed journal “Obstetrics and Gynecology” cited by NBC Washington.

That was the national average, but in D.C., it was 39 moms who died per 100,000 live births. During that same time period, the average was 24 maternal deaths in Maryland and 12 in Virginia.

The bill that Allen and other members introduced is under review by the council.

Access to quality preventive and prenatal care for women of color and low-income women is a key concern behind this bill.

“There’s a maternal health crisis in our city, especially if you look east and west,” Allen said.

“For many District women of color and low-income women, access to comprehensive preventive and prenatal care is inconsistent and insufficient, a situation made even more dire by the recent closing of the labor and delivery units at Providence Hospital in Northeast D.C. and United Medical Center in Southeast D.C.,” Allen wrote in a January 2018 report from the Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety.

If passed and approved by the mayor, a 30-day period would follow for Congress to review it.

Allen expects D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser to sign the bill. Congress also has to approve the measure, but Allen expects no interference on that front.


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