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Women Of Color Face Higher Risk Of Death During Childbirth. One New Bill Looks To Take Action

Ryan Dailey

A pair of Senate and House Bills looks to address maternal deaths from what legislators say are preventable complications during pregnancy. Supporters of the measure are alarmed that women of color die in childbirth at significantly higher rates than white women.

Alex Audate is an attorney who shared her personal story dealing with the aftermath of a friend’s death during pregnancy. Audate says her friend, a nurse, died in the same Miami hospital where she worked, a week before she was set to get married.

“My friend named Kay was 29 years old when she passed away,” Audate said Thursday at the Capitol. “She died in a hospital after many complaints of minor symptoms, but symptoms that if ignore, obviously would result in death.”

Democratic Representative Kamia Brown is a sponsor of the House’s bill, listed  some of those symptoms during a press conference rolling out the legislation.

“Hemorrhaging, infections, preeclampsia, and hypertension disorders – all of which can be reduced by proper care,” Brown said.

Brown says the bill is intended to create a Maternal Mortality Prevention Task Force.

“The task force will consist of the State Surgeon General, the secretary of the healthcare administration, two senators and representatives, a physician appointed by the board of medicine, and a physician appointed by the board of osteopathic medicine,” Brown said.

Brown adds the task force will play a mostly advisory role when it comes to recommendations on policy, rules and laws – “to evaluate methods, improve current practices, procedures, programs and initiatives that will help reduce the rate of preventable maternal deaths.”

Charo Valero with the Florida Latina Advocacy Network says the scales are uneven regarding who is impacted.

Credit Ryan Dailey / WFSU-FM
Attorney Alex Audate shared her personal story of a friend's death during childbirth during the rollout of new legislation to create a Maternal Mortality Prevention Task Force in Florida.

“More women, disproportionately women of color in the United States, die from pregnancy complications than in any other developed country. That needs to sink in,” Valero said.

One first step to begin correcting that problem, Valero says, is stepping up data collection.

“Due to no uniform system of data collection, or a state law that requires this collection, what data we do have only gives us a small window into the healthcare crisis, because it is a crisis, for women in Florida,” Valero said.

Senator Audrey Gibson of Duval County is sponsoring the Senate’s version of the bill.

“We are the greatest nation in the world. And we should not have women dying in childbirth,” Gibson said Thursday.

Gibson is concerned about data showing black women being impacted at a higher rate is uniform across class lines.

“On average, in the United States, black women are three to four times more likely to die during childbirth than their white counterparts – regardless of health, regardless of prenatal care, income, education,” Gibson said.

Jasmen Rogers with the Miami Workers Center lauded the proposed legislation for looking to find what she calls innovative ways to save lives.

“I am in a constant state of anxiety about the likelihood that I will die while trying to birth,” Rogers said. “It is not outrageous to ask that we not die during childbirth.”

Ryan Dailey is a reporter/producer for WFSU/Florida Public Radio. After graduating from Florida State University, Ryan went into print journalism working for the Tallahassee Democrat for five years. At the Democrat, he worked as a copy editor, general assignment and K-12 education reporter.