TEXAS VIEW: Appointment of anti-abortion activist taints Texas’ maternal death review

The review of maternal deaths in Texas has long been questionable.

Those questions have been magnified with the recent appointment of a San Antonio-based doctor, who is vehemently anti-abortion, to the Texas Maternal Mortality and Morbidity Review Committee.

There’s no question Dr. Ingrid Skop, an OB-GYN with more than three decades of experience, is medically qualified for the position. But her outspoken anti-abortion politics taints the committee. Can she be objective in her analysis? Is she willing to consider maternal deaths due to a lack of access to abortion? That these are fair questions threatens the MMMRC’s credibility.

Skop is one of seven new appointees to the committee. The committee, now with 23 members, studies data on pregnancy-related deaths and makes recommendations to the Legislature on best practices and policy changes. Done correctly, the process would reveal the effects of Texas’ near-total abortion ban, which then would inform state lawmakers and policies.

In addition to expanding the committee during the 2023 legislative session, lawmakers increased the number of community member roles to two, including one representing an urban area and one representing a rural area.

A new requirement that members must work in health care eliminated the role of a community advocate. Nakeenya Wilson, a Black, Austin-based maternal health advocate who nearly lost her life during childbirth, is no longer on the committee.

Skop has a long history of opposing abortion. She is vice president and director of medical affairs for the Charlotte Lozier Institute, the research arm of the political advocacy group Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America. She has testified before Congress, authored amicus briefs and produced medical studies.

In 2021, Skop testified during a congressional hearing that rape or incest victims as young as 9 or 10 could carry pregnancies to term.

From the steps of the state Capitol during a “Rally for Life” on Jan. 30, she called the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade “a victory in the battle but not the end of the war.”

When Kate Cox of Dallas asked a judge last year to allow her to terminate her pregnancy after her fetus was diagnosed with a typically fatal condition, Skop signed a sworn declaration against Cox’s request seeking a medical exception.

Skop described the claim that doctors can’t provide quality health care due to the abortion ban scaremongering and a lie. This ignores experiences like those of Cox and Amanda Zurawski, who developed sepsis after doctors refused to perform an abortion when her water broke at 18 weeks and miscarriage was guaranteed.

Skop, of course, is entitled to her views, just as her medical expertise should be recognized. But, in turn, does her political activism make it impossible for her to objectively study maternal death data?

When the Texas Maternal Mortality and Morbidity Review Committee formed in 2013 in response to a new law, it found Black women were more than twice as likely as white women, and more than four times as likely as Hispanic women, to die from pregnancy and childbirth.

The committee’s most recent report, published in 2022, was delayed from its statutorily required Sept. 1 deadline to late December — which just happened to fall after the midterm election. It revealed a grim picture for Texas women, particularly for women of color. This is one reason why it was so important to have Wilson on the committee.

In a recent statement to Hearst Newspapers, Skop said the state’s high rate of maternal death “deserves rigorous discourse” and “there are complex reasons for these statistics, including chronic illnesses, poverty, and difficulty obtaining prenatal care.”

All true, but what about a lack of access to abortion?

Back in September, she wrote in a blog on the Charlotte Lozier website, “Twelve Reasons Women’s Health and Maternal Mortality Will Not Worsen, and May Improve, in States with Abortion Limits.” That doesn’t sound like someone who is willing to consider the impacts a lack of abortion access can have on women’s health.

Skop’s term expires in 2031. That’s a long time for an activist to play an outsize role on a committee that should be objective.

San Antonio Express-News