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New birth center to open on Chicago’s South Side as Pritzker touts proposed maternal health spending

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New birth center to open on Chicago’s South Side as Pritzker touts proposed maternal health spending

Feb 26, 2024 | 9:45 am ET
By Dilpreet Raju
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Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton speaks at an event announcing the planned opening of a birth center on the South Side of Chicago Monday. (Credit: Illinois.gov)
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Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton speaks at an event announcing the planned opening of a birth center on the South Side of Chicago Monday. (Credit: Illinois.gov)

State and community leaders on Monday celebrated the planned opening of a new freestanding birth center on Chicago’s South Side while emphasizing proposed maternal health spending increases in Gov. JB Pritzker’s budget.

The nonprofit Chicago South Side Birth Center will mark the city’s second active midwife-led birth center, but the first for the South Side. Advocates say the Black-led center offers safe birthing alternatives in a medically underserved area of the city. 

Jeanine Valrie Logan, a midwife and leader at the Chicago Beyond philanthropic organization that helped launch the birth center, said the push to create more options for family planning would have been impossible without a 2021 law that increased to 17, from 12, the number of birth centers allowed in Illinois.

Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton said facilities like the South Side Birth Center are important in the Black community. She discussed how she — and now her grown daughters — have serious hesitations with trusting medical caregivers, especially while pregnant. She shared a story of being called “sweetheart” by a doctor who was giving her a prenatal ultrasound.

“This is personal to me. All these years later, we still haven't figured out how Black women can have safe pregnancies, birthing experiences and a healthy first year postpartum,” Stratton said.

Last year, the Illinois Department of Public Health found over 90 percent of all deaths for those pregnant or within one year of pregnancy were potentially preventable from 2018 through 2020. That same study, the “2023 Maternal Morbidity and Mortality Report,” also found Black women were two times as likely two die to from pregnancy-related conditions when compared to white women over the same timespan.

Logan emphasized how freestanding birth centers, where midwives are available to care for pregnant mothers in place of doctors, will transform maternal care for long underserved communities.

It aims “to create a space that will change how people receive reproductive health care,” she said.

Sen. Lakesia Collins, D-Chicago, shared her experience of finding a midwife and doula, both of whom positively shaped her delivery and newborn experience.

“It was one of the best choices I could have ever made in my life … and the care for the mother and then the child all at the same time, and then postpartum care, it really saved me,” Collins said.

Pritzker said Illinois must start acting on maternal health issues. 

“Unfortunately, our nation is failing mothers and mothers-to-be on nearly every metric,” he said. “We have so much to do but imagine what this will look like when it’s completed.”

“The center is intended to offer a full spectrum of reproductive care from contraception to STI screenings and abortion to prenatal birthing and postpartum care, serving as a model for how Illinois can decrease Black maternal mortality,” he added.

Starting this year, for the first time in Illinois history, doulas, midwives and lactation consultants are being recognized as Medicaid health care providers, expanding who can receive their services, he said.

Pritzker also continued to promote his proposed budget, highlighting the Illinois Birth Equity Initiative — a multi-pronged proposal aimed at promoting infant health while reducing the number of maternal and infant deaths.

He proposed allocating $5 million to a home visiting program for new parents and over $4 million to IDPH to create a statewide maternal health plan and distribute grants to community-based reproductive health care providers.

Pritzker highlighted other measures from his budget aimed at new parents, including a $1 million pilot diaper distribution program, operated through the Department of Human Services, and $12 million to create a tax credit aimed at low-income families with children younger than age three.

The preterm birth rate in Illinois, one of the leading causes of infant death, has increased over the past decade, according to March of Dimes, a nonprofit aimed at improving the health of babies and mothers in the U.S.

Their latest report card for Illinois gives the state a D+ preterm birth grade for a preterm birth rate of 10.6 percent which, based on preliminary numbers, equates to about 13,000 preterm births for 2022.

The Chicago South Side Birth Center will open in the former site of the Morning Star Bible Baptist Church, just a few miles south of the South Shore neighborhood.

No date was announced for the birth center to open.