The Texas Tribune
In 2017, while most reporters at the Texas Capitol were chasing a highly publicized debate over which restrooms transgender Texans should use, Marissa Evans began writing about another issue that was very much under the radar. A staggering number of women in Texas were dying while pregnant or soon after giving birth. Black women were especially at risk. Evans wanted to know more.
Her investigation with data reporter Chris Essig — which was published in early 2018 on our website and the front pages of six newspapers across the state — found that Texas lawmakers have squandered opportunities to help more mothers access life-saving services. It explained that fewer pregnant black women get prenatal care. It explored solutions. And it underscored the critical nature of the problem by telling the stories of women like Sable Swallow, an uninsured waitress who was released from the hospital after giving birth even though she told nurses she had a terrible headache. She then had a stroke — and is lucky to be alive. Evans and Essig’s stories got attention, and state lawmakers ultimately took up the issue in a special legislative session.
By that time, other news organizations and Texas lawmakers paying attention. And Evans had pivoted to an angle no one else was pursuing. She individually pursued grant funding and visited Poland — which is similar to Texas in its conservative government and its stringent anti-abortion policies, but vastly different in how it treats midwives — to report on why that country has one of the lowest maternal mortality rates in the world and what Texas could learn from it.
The Texas Tribune’s maternal mortality project included a resource guide, a prenatal questionnaire for women to take to doctor appointments, and a live Reddit AMA (“ask me anything”) chat featuring Evans and one of the women in the story, Syreeta Lazarus, who had serious, nearly fatal complications during childbirth. The story was also a focus of an episode of the Tribune’s popular politics and policy podcast, The TribCast.
In April, the Tribune held a panel discussion called Saving Texas Mothers: A Conversation on Maternal Mortality. The free public event — which featured medical experts and a state representative and was moderated by Evans — took place in Tyler, four hours northeast of Austin, in a community disproportionately affected by this crisis. A livestream was available to those who could not attend.
Readers responded to our investigation with appreciation and outrage. One wrote: “Prediction: this maternal-care resource guide for Texas mothers & families will save lives.” Another tweeted that the project was “INCREDIBLE and harrowing and so important!” Hundreds of people shared the report on Twitter, including MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow.
A year after the legislative session, lawmakers are still working on ways to address maternal mortality through legislation. Many news organizations have now explored the topic. Thanks to Evans and Essig’s efforts to shine light on this underreported topic, it’s no longer under the radar — and women’s lives are being saved.
Submitted by Emily Ramshaw.