Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Will Alabama Actually Make Home Birth Safer?

By Glenni Lorick, IBCLC

For the last several years, the Alabama Birth Coalition has worked tirelessly to pass legislation providing for the licensing and regulation of Certified Professional Midwives. Each year, their efforts have fallen short, as the bill has either not made it out of committee or been terribly altered by unfriendly ammendments. There is good reason to hope that this year will be different!

A New Committee

Instead of presenting a bill to the Health Committee like they have in past years, this year they have taken a different approach: they have provided a bill to the Judiciary committee! The focus of the bill is the decriminalization of home birth. House Bill 67 and Senate Bill 99, "The Home Birth Safety Act," would decriminalize the practice of Certified Professional Midwives (CPM's).  According to the Alabama Department of Public Health, 1,448 women gave birth outside of the hospital from 2005-2012. Many of those mothers had no medical assistance, increasing the risk dramatically. 

While it is not illegal for a mother to give birth in the comfort of her home, it IS illegal for anybody with any medical training to provide assistance to her. This bill provides immunity to midwives and certain healthcare providers who assist in "physiologic childbirth." In other words, specially trained professionals will not be prosecuted for helping a mother give birth at home.

The Debate

Opponents argue that home birth is inherently unsafe. They insist that a woman should only give birth in the safe confines of a hospital. In fact the president of the Medical Association of the State of Alabama weighed in heavily against this bill. Nevertheless, even Governor Bentley recognizes that Alabama mothers ARE having babies at home, and the wisest thing to do is make it as safe as possible for them by allowing trained professionals to attend those births. 

Proponents of the Home Birth Safety Act recognize that the bill on the table actually helps to ensure the safety of mothers by authorizing only "midwives who hold a current midwifery certification from an organization accredited by the Institute for Credentialing Excellence." Certified Professional Midwives are specifically trained in dealing with out-of-hospital births. They are experienced professionals who have undergone thorough testing of their knowledge base.

You Can Help

Tomorrow at 1:00 pm a public hearing is scheduled before the Senate Judiciary Committee followed by a committee vote. Many members of the Alabama Birth Coalition will travel to Montgomery to show their support. Assuming this bill passes the committee tomorrow, you need to contact your state senator, asking him or her to vote in favor of this bill when it comes to a full vote of the senate. Hopefully, the same process will take place in the House.

Eventually the Alabama Birth Coalition would like to see the practice of midwifery licensed and regulated by the state. This would confer even greater protection on childbearing families. Nevertheless, decriminalization is a very important first step!

Whether you personally would be comfortable with a home birth or not, it is time to recognize that every mother has the right to choose how she wants to give birth. Some women just want their epidural in the hospital, and that is their right. Others want a natural birth in a hospital setting. Some even want a Certified Nurse Midwife.  If a woman has the right to choose to end the life of her child, then she should certainly have the right to choose where and under what birthing circumstances her child's life outside of the womb will begin.

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