Panel Discussion: Maternal and Infant Mortality Rates in Missouri

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. - Missouri's maternal mortality rate is one of the highest in the United States.

As part of Reproaction's maternal and infant mortality campaign, four organizations came together to host a documentary screening and a panel discussion.

Reproaction is a group formed to increase access to birth control options and provide information about maternal mortality rates.

A focus of the event deals with reasons why black women are four times more likely to die from pregnancy-related issues than white women.

The Missouri organizer Evonnia Woods said the mortality rates are consistent across the state.

"I mention cities and rural areas which is the boot heel because the two highest places in Missouri are St. Louis and the boot heel," said Woods.

Panelist Tehesha Stegall, a nurse practitioner explained some reasons why black women are more likely to die from pregnancy problems.

"Being a black person in America, a black woman in America, it's a constant stressor," said Stegall,  "anyone who's constantly living under stress or strain fear of survival and how you're perceived, and how you will be treated as a constant. So you carry that while you're pregnant."

She said a good way to fight those maternal mortality numbers is to bring awareness to the issue.

"You can't be ignorant, and I don't mean that in a negative way," Stegall said, "because we are all humans first and foremost."

"The more education we have the more we can have the hard conversations about things that most people don't want to discuss in America," said Dee Ogilvy, a founder of the Southwest Missouri's National Organization for Women."

And besides awareness, Reproaction also hopes that the education of maternal mortality rates can improve health care access for women and minorities.

"I hope that our political leaders will stop defunding health care, particularly the first funding in health care is for women that's specified for women," said Woods.

And globally, the United States is actually ranked alongside third-world countries with maternal and infant mortality rates, even if you don't factor in the racial disparity.

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