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Georgia, One of the Least Safe States for Women

GOVERNING, Samantha Hogan, February 24, 2024

Women across the state are dying from pregnancy-related causes at the highest rate that has been documented by the state in the past decade. Between 35 and 40 mothers die every year.

On August 16, 2022, Amanda Jones logged on to Facebook to share the good news. She posted pictures of a positive pregnancy test, a grainy black-and-white ultrasound image and test results confirming that she was expecting a second girl.

Jones had been a stay-at-home mother in Macon, Ga., since she and her partner, Donald Tullius, welcomed their first child, Katie, two years earlier. That December, Jones gave birth to Miranda during a planned cesarean section.

“She was doing great. Fine. She had no real problem, other than her blood pressure was a little high,” Tullius said.

In the next several months, Jones’ legs began to swell and hurt. The couple looked online for the side effects of the blood pressure medication she was prescribed after the birth and scheduled an appointment with Jones’ doctor. Then, early one morning in June 2023, Jones went into the kitchen to prepare a bottle of formula for the baby.

“She dropped,” said Tullius, who called 911. “She passed out.”

Later that morning, Jones was pronounced dead. Doctors determined she had a blood clot in her right lung.

Jones and other women who die during pregnancy or within a year after giving birth are closely studied by state health officials. Policymakers have worked in earnest for a decade to improve pregnancy outcomes, yet Georgia remains one of the least safe states in the country for women to give birth.

Georgia women are dying from pregnancy-related causes at the highest rate that has been documented by the state in the past decade. Each year, between 35 and 40 mothers die, recent state health data show.

“These deaths are very complex. It’s not that these are people who just died during childbirth because they received bad care. It’s often that there are really complex social determinants of health contributing to the death,” said Katie Kopp, director of maternal programs for the Department of Public Health.

Under the Gold Dome this session, the House has passed a bill to study maternal and infant health services and lawmakers may propose expanding Medicaid. If passed, the expansion could be the state’s most effective tool in helping women access health care prior to becoming pregnant, which could lower maternal mortality in the state, advocates said.

For the families who have lost mothers, life is never the same.

Tullius watched with his 3-year-old and 6-month-old daughters as the ambulance took Jones to the hospital. In less than two hours, his whole world changed when doctors were unable to revive the mother of his children. Tullius said it never crossed his mind that he would be a single parent or face raising their girls alone.

In Katie’s bedroom, there is a picture of Jones, and the 3-year-old still has memories of her mom.

“Every now and then, because mommy went to the doctor, she says, ‘When mommy gets better, can I see her?’ And I have to explain again that mama can’t come back,” Tullius said.

For Tullius, the realization on his daughter’s face each time he explains Jones’ death has been the hardest part.

“It hurts me to break her little heart,” Tullius said.

A Decade of Research

Maternal mortality has been a perplexing problem in the United States for decades.

In 2010, the human rights group, Amnesty International, identified maternal mortality as a national health care crisis. The group issued a report that said women in the U.S. had a greater lifetime risk of dying from pregnancy-related complications than 40 other nations. More than two women were dying each day in America from pregnancy-related causes, the report said.

The group ranked Georgia last among the states — 50th in country — for its high maternal mortality rate. Only the District of Columbia ranked worse.

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