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On Oct. 20, 2020, Dr. Chaniece Wallace, a vibrant 30-year-old pediatric chief resident at Indiana University’s medical school, died of postpartum complications. Her death, two days after giving birth to her daughter, Charlotte, left her husband a widower and Charlotte was denied knowing the love of her remarkable mother. Her mother, Dr. Chaniece Wallace, had dedicated her short life to care for other children in need of quality health care. Her death was her family’s loss and a loss to our Black community. 

Her death underscores an ongoing high maternal mortality rate within the Black Community.

The pregnancy-related mortality rate for Black women is 5.2 times higher than for white women, and the rates of maternal mortality and severe maternal morbidity are 3 to 4 times higher in Black women than in white women. Glaring racial disparities are present across the health care spectrum for the Black community, and Indiana leads the nation among some of the worst statistics. 

Just months after the death of Wallace, we were once again reminded of the inequities in our health care system. A Black female physician, Dr. Susan Moore, 52,reportedly died of complications from COVID-19.

These deaths are devastating. On top of this, we are in the middle of a deadly pandemic that disproportionately affects the Black community.

The pandemic has laid bare the economic inequality, structural racism and public health failures in this country. The public health crises we face in Indiana and across the country must become a top priority. In addition to the health care crisis, the recession caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has fallen squarely on the shoulders of women, particularly BIPOC women, who made up all of the job losses incurred in December.

We have an opportunity to address these systemic issues. Our commitment must be to prioritize issues around increased access to health care and reproductive freedom. We cannot confront the massive challenges of COVID-19 — poverty, hunger, economic or racial injustice — unless we address issues of reproductive health and freedom.
Wallace’s husband says, “Chaniece fought with every piece of strength, courage, and faith she had available.” 

We must continue the fight. We have tasked our state legislators to increase access to care and bring relief from COVID-19.

This session we will be supporting maternal health, including 12-months postpartum coverage (HB 1155), health care for incarcerated women (HB 1349; HB 1430), pregnancy accommodations (HB 1309) and doula coverage (SB 298; HB 1350). We are also working to see the passage of comprehensive sex ed (HB 1366) and expanded access to 12 months of birth control coverage.

What we all witnessed on Jan. 6 must not deter us. Those involved must be held accountable, but we can’t be distracted from the future we want to see. We have not lost sight of the historic change in Georgia, and we want to continue that work here in Indiana.  

We must expand people’s access to health care and make decisions that reflect the will of the people.

More than half of maternal mortality deaths are preventable. Let us continue to take actions to recognize and remove these barriers. Let’s work together in honoring those we have lost by protecting the living — because our care can’t wait.

LaKimba DeSadier is state director for Planned Parenthood Advocates of Indiana.

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