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Kelly reintroduces bill to reduce deaths among pregnant women

Black women in Illinois are six times more likely to die during pregnancy

Crusader Staff Report

Months after she gave birth to her daughter, Alexis Olympia Ohanian Jr., tennis superstar Serena Williams wrote about how she almost died from blood clots. She credits her survival to the access she had to high quality health care and dedicated doctors. But she pointed out how less famous people experience problems getting quality healthcare on the same level as affluent patients. She called for racial inequities to be addressed in maternal health care.

On Monday, March 18, Congresswoman Robin Kelly stepped up her support of the “MOMMA Act,” a bill that will be formally reintroduced in the U.S. House and Senate next week. Illinois lawmakers are calling for bipartisan support for it.

At a press conference on Tuesday, March 19 at the UChicago Medicine, Kelly and Senator Dick Durbin stressed the importance of the bill, which aims to reduce the number of deaths among hundreds of mothers who lose their lives during pregnancy each year.

The act, which stands for “Mothers and Offspring Mortality and Morbidity Awareness” calls for more money for prenatal care and training for health care providers.

Each year, an estimated 700 American women die from childbirth. That rate is more than double what it was 30 years ago, according to Felicia Lester, MD, the medical director of gynecology services at the University of California at San Francisco.

Black women are twice as likely to experience complications as white women in the United States. Black women are also 3-4 times as likely to die from pregnancy or childbirth.

Lester added that “it’s not just about the socioeconomic status or educational status or rural/urban dwelling status. It’s something else. Highly educated African American women of high socioeconomic status are still more likely to die in childbirth than a white woman, even one of lower socioeconomic status. We need to think about our society in general and determine why this might be.”

Amid health care advancements in the treatment of diseases such as cancer and heart disease, Senator Dick Durbin called it “an embarrassment and a challenge” that women and children are losing their lives in such high numbers.

“Every year more than 23,000 infants die in the U.S. largely due to factors that could be treated or prevented, birth defects, pre-term birth, low birth weight and maternal complications,” he said.

Out of 35 of the world’s wealthiest nations, America ranks 32nd on the list of infant mortality rates. But maternal mortality, the mother’s death rate, is worse now than it was 25 years ago, according to Durbin.

“The tragedy of maternal and infant mortality is even more pronounced when you look at mothers and babies of color,” Durbin said.

Durbin noted that Black women are three to four times more likely to die during pregnancy than white women.

The numbers are even higher in Illinois. Between 2008 and 2016, an average of 73 women died each year, within one year of pregnancy. Black women in the state are six times as likely to die of pregnancy-related conditions. Seventy percent or more are preventable according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.

“Too often Black women are not listened to, or taken seriously by health care providers,” Durbin said.

“All mommas deserve the chance to be mommas,” Congresswoman Robin Kelly said.

Dr. Nicole Williams with the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists said bias in medicine is one major factor that needs to be addressed.

“It’s not obesity, it’s not high blood pressure, it’s not being African or being of African descent, it’s certainly not economic or educational status, the answer has everything to do with simply being a Black woman in America,” she said.

Durbin noted that many of these death can be prevented with the right screenings, the right interventions and the right health care.

The bill will be formally introduced in the House and Senate next week, and Illinois lawmakers are calling for bipartisan support for it.

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