The Pennsylvania House of Representatives has unanimously passed SB 262, which will add severe maternal morbidity to the list of reportable events within the Department of Health.
The CDC defines severe maternal morbidity as unexpected outcomes of labor and delivery that result in significant short or long-term consequences to a woman’s health. The bill will allow Pennsylvania to track the prevalence of maternal morbidity in the commonwealth and provide valuable data.
SB 262 is part of a package of bills aimed at addressing maternal mortality and improving maternal health outcomes introduced by Sen. Judy Schwank with House companion bills prime sponsored by Rep. Morgan Cephas (D-Philadelphia). The bill has the support of the Pennsylvania Legislative Black Caucus and the Pennsylvania Women’s Health Caucus.
Research published in Clinical Obstetrics and Gynecology finds that for every maternal death, 100 women suffer from severe maternal morbidity. In 2021 alone, roughly 120,500 women nearly died from childbirth.
Additionally, the U.S. maternal mortality rate is consistently higher than other wealthy nations. Black women are disproportionately impacted by maternal mortality, with a rate 2.6 times higher than White women.
Alarms were raised around Black maternal health when Olympic track and field star Tori Bowie died from childbirth complications in May of 2023. Schwank said Bowie’s story demonstrates how much work is yet to be done to fully address the maternal mortality crisis at all levels of government.
“We have a moral obligation to do everything in our power to end maternal mortality in Pennsylvania and throughout the country,” said Schwank. “Tori Bowie was a world-class athlete and only 32 years old. Her story is a tragedy, and I think we need to be very clear about this; we have the ability to do so much better. Lives are literally on the line.”
Dr. Aasta Mehta, the Medical Officer of Women’s Health at the City of Philadelphia’s Department of Public Health, said SB 262 will make pregnancy safer for all Pennsylvanians.
“I applaud the General Assembly for passing SB 262 which empowers the Department of Health to release yearly data on the incidence of severe maternal morbidity in the commonwealth,” Mehta said. “This information serves as a vital tool for monitoring and surveillance, identifying risk factors, improving healthcare quality, and evaluating interventions. By understanding the patterns and causes of severe complications during pregnancy and childbirth, we can develop targeted strategies to reduce maternal morbidity rates and enhance the overall well-being of birthing people. Commitment to data-driven decision-making and evidence-based policies will drive us towards a future where every birthing person receives the comprehensive care they deserve, ensuring safer pregnancies and brighter futures for families.”
Schwank also said she’s optimistic that the unanimous bipartisan support for SB 262 will open the door for more collaborations on legislation addressing maternal mortality.
“I think we are realizing that this impacts all of us,” Schwank said. “With that in mind, we must work together to improve maternal health outcomes for all Pennsylvanians. I’m very pleased that SB 262 passed both chambers with unanimous support. I hope we can continue to work in a bipartisan manor to address maternal morbidity and mortality.”
SB 262 will now head to Governor Josh Shapiro’s desk to be signed into law.