Georgia Senate approves bill mandating autopsies in cases of maternal deaths

Credit: Alyssa Pointer /

Credit: Alyssa Pointer /

In an effort to continue to try to better study Georgia’s high maternal mortality rate, the state Senate on Tuesday passed legislation that would require an autopsy be done every time a pregnant woman dies.

Autopsies are currently required only in certain cases, such as when someone dies as a result of violence, an overdose or while an inmate.

Senate Bill 496 would require a medical examiner to do an autopsy and determine the cause of death when someone dies while pregnant or within the first year after giving birth. Autopsies would not be required if the woman died in a car crash.

“Unfortunately, many maternal deaths occur for unknown causes,” said state Sen. Dean Burke, a Bainbridge Republican and retired gynecologist who sponsored the bill. “It’s hard to fix a problem when we don’t know what the cause is. This bill develops a process so when we have a maternal death, a coroner’s case is developed and evaluated.”

Georgia’s maternal mortality rate has consistently ranked among the worst in the nation, and state officials have tried to take steps to get the deaths under control.

“Our state ranks 49th or 50th, depending on the year in that statistic (maternal mortality rate),” Burke said. “It’s the bane of my existence.”

Earlier this year, the Senate passed legislation that would extend the amount of time low-income Georgia mothers can receive benefits under Medicaid, the public health program that provides care to the poor and disabled, from six months to one year after the birth of a child. The move comes two years after lawmakers extended the benefits from two to six months.