The overturn of Roe v. Wade has concerned area doulas, who say that it will increase health disparities between white and Black mothers. Doulas are women who assist other women during pregnancy, labor and postpartum.
The St. Louis Doula Project has long been working toward eliminating health disparities in Black and brown communities. The collective provides resources for historically oppressed pregnant people in St. Louis.
LaKisha Redditt, chair of the board, points towards a report published in 2021 by the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services that found Black women had a pregnancy mortality rate more than four times greater than white women in 2018. She says that the overturn of Roe, which outlaws abortion in Missouri except in the case of medical emergency, will only increase this disparity.
Redditt says: “These are forced births. These are people who are probably going to be in poverty a little bit longer than they would otherwise.”
Carmen Southall-Whamoff, a St. Louis Doula Project board member, explains that women of color in St. Louis often face a myriad of factors that contribute to higher mortality rates and greater stress levels while pregnant and giving birth: Unstable housing, food deserts in segregated neighborhoods and lack of transportation for medical care are just a few.
“You have a mom who's pregnant, maybe has a child and now, ‘Oh, wow, there's a formula shortage on top of it,’” she says, referring to the recent national run on baby formula.
Southall-Whamoff says the project helps moms by offering a full range of services for pregnant people. A doula might schedule rides to doctor appointments, act as a cultural translator between doctor and patient or provide emotional support during birth.
According to Redditt, the project expanded their services when a fellow doula reached out to the St. Louis Doula Project in 2019 asking for assistance getting clients rides to abortion appointments. The organization agreed to help.
“We've just jumped in with no hesitation. I think inherently we know that parenthood looks different for very many people. And people want the access to choose what parenthood looks like for them,” Redditt says.
As of right now, the project aims to do whatever it can, legally, to continue its full range of services to clients. This may include driving people across state lines to Illinois in order to access abortive procedures. Currently, Redditt says her organization feels confident that doulas won’t be penalized.
“The law looks like right now it doesn't [apply to] support people. I mean, we're not telling people that they need an abortion, or that they should get one. And we're not providing the medication,” she says.
Redditt advocated for doulas to openly claim support for the pro-choice movement, in order to encourage people to ask questions and come to them for support.
“We don't know how long these laws are going to be in place. And how many generations are going to have to endure this,” she says. “Doulas need to not be afraid to say ‘I support abortion.’”