INDIANAPOLIS – When Indiana lawmakers passed the near-total ban on abortion, they also created an advisory board focused on increasing access to doula services for expectant mothers.

It’s part of the social services package the legislature also approved during the special session.

The doula advisory board will consist of 13 members and will focus specifically on funding for doula services, according to the legislation.

“We are there from the beginning to the end,” said Ana Vallow, who has been a doula in Central Indiana for 12 years with her business Indy Birth Services.

As a doula, Vallow provides emotional and physical support during childbirth. She’s also there for women during and after pregnancy, she said.

“Things like childbirth education, learning about the benefits of breastfeeding, learning what’s available in their community,” Vallow explained.

Doctors say doulas have been shown to improve birth outcomes and help reduce the risk of maternal and infant mortality – areas where Indiana has fallen short.

“This is especially vital for women of color,” said Dr. Adrienne Rasbach, an obstetrician-gynecologist for Ascension St. Vincent Carmel. “We see higher rates of maternal morbidity and mortality in our moms of color.”

Dr. Rasbach estimates only about 5% to 10% of her patients use a doula.

“The average cost to hire a doula in Indiana, or at least here in the Indianapolis area where I practice, is about $1,000,” Dr. Rasbach said. “That’s not doable for a lot of our moms.”

Indiana’s new doula advisory board will consist of doulas, other birthing professionals and lawmakers. The law says the group will issue recommendations for Medicaid reimbursement.

State Rep. Cherrish Pryor (D-Indianapolis) introduced the amendment creating the board, which received bipartisan support.

“We need more funding,” Pryor said. “We need to expand the program and get more women who are doulas to help pregnant mothers.”

“We don’t want them to fear are they going to die for choosing to grow their family or to bring life into the world,” Vallow said.

The doula advisory board must issue a report with recommendations to the legislature by December 1. That comes ahead of the new legislative session when lawmakers will work on the state budget.