As efforts to address the country’s maternal mortality crisis have stalled at the federal level, advocates and lawmakers are increasingly turning to statewide maternal mortality review committees to make progress — and try to save lives.

Guttmacher Institute, one of the nation’s largest reproductive health research organizations, reports that almost all states have a maternal mortality review committee that’s tasked with investigating pregnancy-related deaths and their causes and making prevention recommendations.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recorded 1,205 maternal deaths in 2021, up from 861 in 2020 and 754 in 2019. The average maternal mortality rate that year was 32.9 per 100,000 live births. Black birthing people’s maternal mortality rate was 69.9 per 100,000 live births, compared to White birthing people’s rate of 26.6.

Guttmacher marks 2016 as a year of resurgence of interest in these review committees as attention on maternal mortality rose. Jennifer Driver, the senior director of reproductive rights at the advocacy group State Innovation Exchange, believes that the acknowledgement of maternal mortality as an issue — and one that disproportionately impacts Black women —  has resulted in an uptick in legislation to study or address the matter. She also believes state legislators are better equipped to address maternal health than their federal counterparts because of the rate at which legislation moves at the state level.

“State legislators play a critical role in advancing and protecting reproductive rights. While often, folks look at Congress or the administration or the courts, what we know, especially in 2024, that all of those are really kind of stalled,” Driver said. “Because of the makeup of the Congress, and the way that politics has just been so polarized, very little legislation passes. And so there’s only so much that Congress can do, whereas on the contrast, state legislators are on the front lines of this work. So much legislation moves faster.”

Democratic U.S. Reps. Lauren Underwood of Illinois and Alma Adams of North Carolina sponsored the Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act of 2021, which included bills to improve maternal health through several avenues, including researching and collecting data on maternal mortality and morbidity among minority groups. It did not pass, but there are efforts to pass state-level Momnibus bills.

While the American Journal of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (AJOG) recently reported that maternal mortality rates may be overstated, “Maternal mortality rates among non-Hispanic Black women …  remained disproportionately high compared with other race and ethnicity groups.” A recent study found “stable rates of maternal mortality in the United States between the 1999–2002 and 2018–2021 periods, decreases in maternal deaths due to direct obstetrical causes, increases in maternal deaths due to indirect obstetrical causes, and large increases in the misclassification of nonmaternal and incidental deaths due to the use of the pregnancy checkbox.”

Read the full article about maternal mortality by Darreonna Davis at The19th.