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Experts: Maternal mortality crisis impacting Black women at higher rates

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — More women of color are dying during pregnancy. Advocates are calling it a crisis, now calling on Indiana leaders to act.

Experts say Black women are more likely to die while giving birth today than they were 30 to 40 years ago. While there are multiple contributing factors, it’s happening to women at all physical fitness and socioeconomic levels.

The recent death of Olympian Tori Bowie brought a renewed light to the problem.

“The United States is leading developed nations in maternal mortality rates,” said Dr. Jerome Adams, WISH-TV medical expert and a former U.S surgeon general.

Adams adds that Indiana is the third worst state in the country when it comes to maternal mortality rates. “We’re moving in the right direction in terms of raising awareness, but again the numbers tell us we’ve got a long way to go,” he said.

Today, Black women in particular have higher chances of dying during or after giving birth. Olympian Tori Bowie is the third relay team member to face birthing complications, joining Allison Felix and Tianna Madison-Bartoletta.

Lauren Lancaster with the Indiana Minority Health Coalition said, “We are definitely in a crisis. It was safer 30 to 40 years ago to have a baby as a Black woman than it is to have one now.”

Indiana state Rep. Vanessa Summers formed the Maternal Health Caucus in 2020. She says an estimated 117 women out of every 100,000 will face maternal mortality.

Summers says people need to “find pieces of legislation that will chip away at the mountain.

“I always say that, ‘I have to chip away at the mountain.’ There’s a mountain of problems in Indiana,” Summers said.

Summers is collaborating with the Indiana Minority Health Coalition to advocate for broader access to doulas.

Doulas are not midwives, but instead are advocates working with mothers during pregnancy, birth, and postpartum.

Summers said, “The current General Assembly, I’m hoping they will see that it’s an important issue.”

The Indiana Minority Health Coalition, to help put the disparity into perspective, says Black women with master’s degrees have the same likelihood of dying in pregnancy as a white woman with a high school diploma.