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Word in Black

Why Black Moms and Babies Are Dying So Often In Louisiana

By April 3, 2024April 4th, 2024No Comments

Its near-total abortion ban has ripple effects that keep maternal mortality rates among the highest in the nation.

– Word In Black

Since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade almost two years ago, the battle to women’s access to abortion and contraceptive healthcare has moved to the states.

Some have enacted total or near total bans on abortion, in the process, becoming flashpoints in the battle over reproductive rights. Louisiana, which has the nation’s 5th-highest Black population, has become one of those states.

In August 2022, Louisiana became one of 14 states that have made abortion illegal at any stage of pregnancy, with a few narrow exceptions.

But a new report by Lift Louisiana found those exceptions — including fetal anomalies or a mother’s health at risk — haven’t stopped the state from essentially nullifying federal laws designed to protect patients and threatening clinicians who treat pregnant women.

“Our attorney general, Jeff Landry, sent us all a letter saying, ‘I will put you in jail if you break these rules.’ Literally, I am out to get you, so don’t break these rules,” according to one maternal-fetal medicine specialist quoted in the report, “Criminalized Care: How Louisiana’s Abortion Bans Endanger Patients and Clinicians.”

“So, you do feel a little bit like there’s a target on your back because you want to do what’s right for the patient,” the provider said. “And these aren’t situations that happen infrequently, these aren’t clinical scenarios that happen once a year. They happen all the time. Every time I’m on call, I have a patient that’s considered to potentially be in a life-or-death situation.”

Louisiana has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the country, with Black women disproportionately affected, according to state health data from the Centers for Disease Control.

According to a 2019 state legislative report, four Black mothers in Louisiana die for every white mother and two Black babies die for every one white baby. The state’s maternal mortality rate also significantly exceeds the national average, and has the 5th highest infant mortality rate in the United States.

Meanwhile, a bill in the state legislature that would have amended Louisiana’s constitution to guarantee reproductive rights for women — including allowing contraceptives, access to abortion and infertility treatment — failed in the state assembly after the Republican-controlled committee voted 10-2 to defeat it.

If it had passed, the measure would have been put on the November ballot.

“I don’t see this as a pro-abortion bill. I see this as a pro-medical treatment bill,” Democratic Rep. Aimee Freeman, the bill’s sponsor, said during the committee hearing.

Freeman argued that the amendment is needed to provide pregnant patients “full access to treatments.”

Even access to contraception is up for debate in Louisiana. A bill intended to guarantee access to it was delayed last week so anti-abortion group Louisiana Right to Life could decide whether it would support the measure.

The bill, introduced by New Orleans Rep. Delisha Boyd, a Democrat, ensures a variety of birth control options can be prescribed and used in the state, including birth control pills, IUDs and emergency contraception, such as Plan B. But the bill stops short of mandating insurance coverage for birth control. The committee is slated to reopen consideration on the bill this week.

Republicans offered an amendment, allowing exemptions for religious exceptions, during last week’s hearing and two legislators questioned the bill’s impact on IUDs and emergency contraception. They particularly objected to a provision that would cover IUDs and emergency contraception under the state Medicaid program and the Office of Group Benefits, which provides private health insurance plans to state workers, public school teachers and retirees.

Louisiana’s Medicaid program already covers many contraceptives, including IUDs and emergency contraception. The Office of Group Benefits insurance plans also offer birth control coverage, including IUDs, for state employees and public school teachers.

The bill is scheduled for reconsideration this week. If this bill doesn’t proceed an identical bill pending in the state senate could be considered.

Sen. Royce Duplessis, D-New Orleans, that bill’s sponsor, could move on the right to birth control bill he’s introduced this session.

“In the wake of Roe vs. Wade being overturned, and now IVF clinics left vulnerable, we have more urgency than ever to protect family planning rights,” said State Senator Royce Duplessis. “Rep. Boyd and I each filed Right to Contraception bills because we must codify an individual’s right to birth control, emergency contraceptives, and related information; and guarantee health care providers the right to provide them.”