GOP-backed maternal health bill advances at Georgia Gold Dome

A doctor uses a hand-held Doppler probe on a pregnant woman to measure the heartbeat of the fetus on Dec. 17, 2021, in Jackson, Miss. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis, File)

Georgia House lawmakers are advancing a bill to create a new state commission on maternal and infant health. The Republican-sponsored legislation sailed to passage this week with bipartisan support.

Under House Bill (H.B.) 1037, the new commission would include 14 people, including an OB-GYN, pediatrician, a midwife and other healthcare practitioners.

Gov. Brian Kemp would appoint the majority of the body’s members. The lieutenant governor and the Speaker of the House would appoint other members and the body would include a representative from the state Department of Public Health (DPH).

“This commission is going to allow us, as policymakers, to have a more holistic view of the issues are in this arena. And it’s also going to give us the ability to say to the women of Georgia that we hear you, we see you, we care, and we’re going to do what we can to help you,” said Henry County Republican Rep. Lauren Daniel, who is sponsoring the bill.

The commission would be temporary, sunsetting in two years.

On the House floor, Daniel said the new commission would expand upon work already being done by the existing Georgia Maternal Mortality Review Committee.

That committee includes medical experts and investigates pregnancy related deaths in the state in an effort to identify their causes, and makes recommendations for prevention. 

It’s been up and running for around a decade.

In a recent report, the committee found that 85% of all pregnancy-related deaths in Georgia are preventable. And Black women continue to face a much higher risk of maternal mortality than other Georgians.

Fairburn Democratic Rep. Lydia Glaize spoke passionately in favor of the bill. She talked about her own experiences surviving two high-risk pregnancies and giving birth to two sets of twins. 

“What I will ask you is that this commission that we’re putting together, that we will not leave mothers out, mothers who have survived high-risk pregnancies. Our voices need to be heard on the commission,” she said.

“Because there is no better person to tell you what they’ve gone through and what they’ve gone through and how they survived other than the survivor.”

House Democrats are also pushing for the commission to include a mental-health specialist.

Maternal death can occur anytime during pregnancy or within a year after birth. And mental health conditions are a leading cause, according to the Maternal Mortality Review Committee. 

This includes deaths related to depression, anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar, psychotic disorder, and other mental health conditions, as well as substance use disorder.

Lilburn Democratic Rep. Jasmine Clark said she voted for H.B. 1037, hoping it would bring more resources to Georgia’s maternal health disparities.

“I will be voting today with hope that this commission will add to and not just duplicate the tremendous work done by DPH with their Maternal Mortality Review Committee and their report,” she said.

Clark also expressed reservations about the process for appointing members to the commission. 

 “This commission will be appointed by 100% Republican men, which gives me some pause. But my vote today is that this will not be a partisan attempt at undermining efforts to address a true crisis in our state.”