By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
Wednesday, March 8, 2017, the Alabama House Judiciary Committee held a public hearing on a bill to decriminalize a midwife assisting a mother with a home birth. House Bill 315 was sponsored by State Representative Ken Johnson (R-Moulton).
Rep. Johnson said that in 2006, it became a crime for a midwife to be present at a birth. Home births are still legal. Johnson said, “Nearly everyone I have talked to thinks that it is counterintuitive to say you are welcome to have birth; but if you have someone there to assist you who has training in births, it is a crime for that person to be there. We should not make it a crime. Rep. Johnson said that in this public hearing you are going to hear that this is not safe and ought to be a crime. However, that it is a conflict of interest to say that you can have home birth but you can’t have it with any help.”
The Executive Director of the Alabama Medical Association, Mark Jackson, vehemently opposes this bill. “There should be no midwifes in Alabama without a regulating authority in the State. Rep. Johnson’s HB316 would set up a regulating authority, but the Medical Association has problems with that bill as well.” Jackson said in addition to his safety concerns the hospitals should be given immunity from any liability if a home delivered baby or the mother then go to the hospital. “It is unfair and wrong for the hospitals in this State, the physicians in the State, the nurses in the State to assume the liability when something goes wrong.”
Jackson said that they would just show up at the hospital with no advance warning. “We believe that there needs to be some liability provisions.”
State Representative Phillip Pettis (R-Killen) asked Jackson, “Do you know what the infant mortality is in this State?” Jackson said, “I know. It is the second worst in the country.” Midwifery is legal in Mississippi and they are 50th in infant mortality.
State Representative Christopher John England said, “If somebody is going to get shot or stabbed and then is rushed to the hospital, it is an emergency. They did not know they were going to be shot today. Somebody transports them to the hospital and I don’t see anybody saying it is not fair to the hospital that they did not get advance notice that this was going to happen. I am very troubled by how you create liability on the part of the hospital when somebody decides to have birth at home.”
Jacksion said, “If the mother and baby go to the hospital and there is a bad outcome then there is a lawsuit. The hospital is named in the lawsuit, the doctor is named in the lawsuit, the nurse is named in the lawsuit. Is there a problem with giving them immunity?”
Rep. England said, “ I don’t see how this situation of yours is any different than any other emergency.”
Jackson said, “The emergency was due to a medical procedure by a midwife who is holding herself out as an expert in delivering babies.”
State Representative Mike Ball (R-Madison) said, “This issue seems so simple to me. Women been having babies for a long time. Most states have midwives in one form or another. This is just about whether it should be decriminalized. Some women will decide to have a home birth. Some women are having home births now.”
Ball, a retired State Trooper, said, “Some of my troopers have had to deliver babies. Thank God it never happened to me. You can have it at home assisted by your cousin who doesn’t know anything. It doesn’t make sense to me that if someone who has specialized training is there it is illegal for them to be present. Decriminalization is a good place to get started and maybe we will get some progress.”
Jennifer Cook with the Alabama Midwives Alliance said, “Tuskegee had a nationally recognized Midwifery school that trained thousands of Midwives, but in 1976, the State forced mothers to have birth in hospitals. Every state bordering Alabama has legalized or decriminalized midwifery. Alabama is one of a handful of states that criminalize Midwifery. We are not asking for anything unreasonable. Midwifery is a safe, and affordable option. Alabama is neck deep in a child birthing crisis. We have been bringing bills to this body for 15 years and we have been wholly unsuccessful. We want licensing and certification.”
The President of the Alabama Midwife Alliance, Chloe Rohm, said, “Legalizing midwifery will open lines of communication between Midwifes and other medical professionals.
State Representative Paul Beckman (R-Prattville) said, “Doctors that deliver babies have the highest insurance costs in the medical profession. Why do midwifery not have that problem would we be shifting that liability over to you?”
Peggy Benson with the Alabama Board of Nursing said, “This bill, to decriminalize midwifery, should be held over until HB316 regulating Midwifery is passed by the Legislature. I am not indicating support of 316, but if HB315 passes without 316, then Midwifery would be less regulated than Nurse Midwives.
Aaron Dettling said that he was speaking in favor of HB315. “This is short bill. This is a simple bill. I submit to you that it should not be a crime for someone with the appropriate training and appropriate skills to give a mother assistance. This is an issue of individual choice and individual liberty. This is a Pro-ife, Pro-freedom, and Pro-Liberty bill.”
There was no vote on HB315 this week.
The House Judiciary Committee is chaired by State Representative Mike Jones (R-Andalusia).