Despite recent technological advances in medicine, pregnancy-related complications are killing twice as many women now than 25 years ago, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The rates are even worse in the black community. 

Oklahoma state legislators are working with advocates to reverse the trend with new legislation. This is a national issue that is reflected right here, with black women giving birth to 10% of new Oklahomans, but making up 22% of maternal deaths.

Sen. George Young (D-Oklahoma City) is helping to lead the effort by declaring Black Maternal Health Week here.

A variety of advocates attended the proclamation, where Young said, “I’m so excited to be a part of that group and working with them to make a difference in the lives of all the citizens in the state of Oklahoma, but particularly those who are most vulnerable.”

The March of Dimes reports that complications from pregnancy kills one Oklahoma woman each month, but two women die across the country each day. Black mothers are three to four times more likely to die during or after labor than white mothers, and 80% of these deaths are preventable.

“They don’t know what to look for, but then when they do look for those things it’s kind of dismissed based off of severity,” said Central Oklahoma Healthy State project director Kamisha Busby.

Researchers point to poverty and poor access to care as contributing factors. In Oklahoma, 41 of our 77 counties fail to offer adequate obstetric offices or birthing centers. Young says that does not account for institutional racism, though.

“One of the greatest research hospitals in the world is right there and growing and developing,” Young said, referring to his own eastside Oklahoma City community, “and you’ve got zip codes that surround it that have some of the most negative health factors, something is wrong that is more than access.”

House Bill 2334, the Maternal Mortality Review Act, would create a Maternal Mortality Review Board to look at local cases, identify trends and save lives. The bill passed unanimously through the House and will have a full vote in the Senate soon.

To learn more about these statistics, click here.

Editor’s Note: News 9 is part of a local initiative that brings all of our local media outlets together to give Oklahoma a United Voice in promoting a healthy dialogue on race. To see more stories, visit UnitedVoiceOK.org.