New data shows that Indiana’s maternal mortality rate, already a serious problem, is getting worse.

Indiana State Health Commissioner Dr. Kristina Box testified this month about the severity of the issue. She told the state legislature’s Interim Study Committee on Public Health, Behavioral Health and Human Services Summer Study Committee that lack of standardized care and mixed information were among the factors leading to more women dying during pregnancies.

Box’s testimony included information from Indiana’s Maternal Mortality Review Committee, which reported 92 pregnancy-associated deaths in 2020, up from 60 in the state in 2019.

When asked about solutions, Box said “improving the education around mental health stigma, especially for our persons of color, so that people will reach out and get help for this, and we remove that stigma from providers for substance use disorder, and people will feel comfortable getting that help,” according to a Statehouse File story.

WHILE THERE HAVE been debates about the accuracy of the statistics and how they’re recorded, the death of any woman due to pregnancy complications is a tragedy. In 2022, with the medical and technological advances we have at our disposal, we must do more to protect mothers and pregnant women.

And with a near total abortion ban approved by the state legislature pending outcomes of court challenges to the law, the health of pregnant women should be a top priority. Valuing the life of a baby while not protecting the mother is hypocritical.

From postpartum depression to substance abuse, there are several issues contributing to maternal mortality.

More mental health services are needed, especially in lower income communities, that cater to mothers. With state coffers so full that refunds have been sent out to taxpayers, we should expect more funding to be allocated for such services.

But the availability of mental health resources isn’t just a state issue — local communities should also dedicate more funds for those services and ensure they’re accomplishing direct and specific goals.

The same is true for substance abuse. It’s a problem that’s plaguing people in all walks of life, including mothers and pregnant women, and there must be more resources available to treat drug addiction.

There’s also the issue of contraception. Box referred to contraception during her testimony, and the need for its wider availability was a part of the abortion discussion by state lawmakers.

STUDIES HAVE SHOWN many women who have abortions already have children at home, indicating better access to birth control would cut down on such procedures without laws limiting abortion. But the Republican supermajority has largely blocked efforts to expand access to contraception.

Obviously, the mother’s health directly affects the child’s well-being. Even if the outcome isn’t death, drug abuse, mental health problems and lack of quality care for mothers and pregnant women can have major effects on children.

When Indiana legislators convene in January, they should prioritize lowering maternal mortality rates. It’s a matter of life and death.
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