Twenty-five female legislators from both parties are sponsoring two bills to create committees to study maternal mortality and maternal and infant health.
House Bill 1440 by Rep. Deborah Ferguson, D-West Memphis, would create the Maternal Mortality Review Committee. House Bill 1441 by Rep. Mary Bentley, R-Perryville, would create the Maternal and Perinatal Outcomes Quality Review Committee.
Those two and other lawmakers unveiled the companion bills during a press conference Thursday (Feb. 14).
House Bill 1440 would require the Department of Health to establish the Maternal Mortality Review Committee to review maternal deaths and develop strategies to prevent them. It would study pregnancy-associated deaths up to one year after the pregnancy was diagnosed. It would recommend how to prevent maternal deaths and present findings to policymakers, healthcare providers and the public.
The bill says Arkansas has 35 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births, compared to the national average of 20, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It says about half of pregnancy-related deaths are preventable. It says 35 states are conducting or preparing to conduct maternal mortality reviews.
House Bill 1441 would create the Maternal and Perinatal Outcomes Quality Review Committee. It would develop strategies for improving birth outcomes. Among other duties, it would develop recommendations for levels of care, create a system of continuous quality improvement, and disseminate its findings.
That bill says that Arkansas’ infant mortality rate was 7.8 per 1,000 live births, compared to a national average of 5.9. Almost 11% of Arkansas babies born in 2018 were preterm, and 8.8% of those had low birth weights.
Both committees would file written reports by Dec. 31 of each year to the House and Senate Committees on Public Health, Welfare and Labor and the Legislative Council, which conducts legislative business between legislative sessions.
Ferguson, a dentist who serves on a national maternal health committee, said the committees will consider what actions need to be taken, “but we need to get the data first.”
Information obtained by both committees would be confidential and inadmissible in court. The committees’ proceedings and activities would not be subject to the state’s Freedom of Information Act.