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Bill to decriminalize midwifery has a public hearing

By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter

Wednesday, May 3, 2017. the Senate Judiciary Committee held a public hearing on House Bill 315 sponsored by State Representative Ken Johnson (R-Moulton).

Rep. Johnson said, “HB315 is a very simple bill. It gives mothers a right to have a safe natural child at home.” Johnson said that the bill would decriminalize midwifery and would follow the example of 44 other states.

State Senator Phil Williams (R-Rainbow City) said, “I have concerns about this bill.” Williams said that there is no regulations and no requirement that the midwifes carry malpractice insurance. “Malpractice insurance is there to protect the patient.”

Rep. Johnson said, “These women are trained. These are not the lay midwives of 50 years ago.” Johnson said that he has another bill, HB316 which sets up a regulatory structure for Certified Professional Midwives. “I would love to see HB316 also move, but this needs to pass first.”

Johnson said that Alabama is only of only six states that makes having a Certified Professional Midwife present at a birth illegal and punishable by up to 30 days in jail and the only State where there is not some sort of legal option yet, “Only one other State has child infant mortality worse than ours.”

State Senator Vivian Figures (D-Mobile) said, “Years ago I was not for this bill, because like Sen. Williams wife I had an issue with my son…I am a woman of choice even with abortion rights. I love the idea of living in the United States with choices of my own. A woman should have the choice of where she delivers the baby and who she chooses to assist her with that birth.”

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Figures said, “We, women, are intelligent enough to make this decision for our bodies and for our lives.”

Sen. Sanders I strongly support this bill. My daughter wanted to have a midwife and had to go all the way to Tennessee to do that.”

Sander said that to criminalize midwifery is awfully undemocratic we should not take that right away. For some women midwifery might be a better choice than a hospital birth.

Rep. Johnson said that when this bill was in the House Rep. Barry Forte brought a picture of him and his ten siblings and all of them were born with midwifes and they all turned out fine.

Sen. Sanders said, “I was delivered by a midwife.”

State Senator Bobby Singleton (D-Greensborough) said, “I was also delivered by a midwife. My great grandmother probably birthed half the black babies in Hale County from the 1930s through the 1960s. She cleaned White people’s houses and she even delivered some of their babies in secret as well. “I will do anything I can to get this bill passed.”

State Senator Rodger Smitherman (D-Birmingham) said that it is legal for a woman to have a baby at home; but not to have a midwife there to assist. “How is a woman going to do that on her own? There is also the issue of rising healthcare costs. Many people can’t even come up with the copay to go to a hospital. To criminalize people for going in to try to help people does not make any sense. Smitherman said that decriminalization is a necessity in order “to operate in a free society and I am voting for it.”

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Kaycee Cavender the President of the Alabama Birth Coalition said that all of the Certified Professional Midwives would be nationally certified and trained and that there is a national approved accreditation program in place. “HB315 will in no way allow lay midwives with no certification or training to practice.” CPMs are required to demonstrate classroom knowledge and the appropriate skills. She can lose her license if found practicing outside of the best practices. The Midwives Alliance of North America did a study of 17,000 home births between 2004 and 2009. This study showed that a home birth with a CPM present is as safe as a hospital birth for a low risk birth. Midwifes are legal in 44 other states. There would be a plan B, a plan C, and a plan D emergency plan. CPMs will work with an OBGYN if a pregnancy was to become high risk

Dane Howard represented the Alabama Hospital Association said, “The Alabama Hospital Association supports choice.” But we favor having the proper guard rails in place. We could support this with the proper regulatory structure in place. Howard said that mothers should first have to go to a physician who would approve whether or not she qualified to use a midwife. Then working with a physician they would develop an emergency plan. We proposed this to the midwives but they were unwilling to agree to this so we have reached an impasse. We would like to continue to work to have a regulatory framework in place. These people are non-medically trained and should not be given a looser framework than a highly trained nurse midwife.”

After Sen. Figures objected, Howard said, “I apologize for calling them ‘these people.’”

Sen. Figures said, “If we are going to make them go to a physician who is going to pay for that.

Howard said you could expand Medicaid.

Sen. Sanders said, “Y’all were trying to stop me from passing the bill with the regulations. We ought to at least decriminalize. As long as it is criminal it is going to be hard to get regulation.

Figures said, “I don’t understand these people. They want to criminalized abortions and they want to criminalize you if you have the baby.”

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Howard said, “This is not decriminalization this is authorization.”

The Alabama Medical Association sent an attorney, Mr. Davis. to represent their interests. Mr. Davis said that violations are undefined in HB315 and is concerned about what happens with decriminalization. “I am not saying anything badly about midwives, but unscrupulous people can misrepresent their background and their credentials.”

Jennifer Cook said that she is a certified professional midwife with a master’s degrees from the University of Alabama a second master’s degree from UAB. Women are making these decisions for religious reasons, cultural reasons, and or financial reasons. 32 states have CPMs. Alabama is the only state in the state with no legal option other than a hospital birth. It is legal for a father with no training to deliver the baby. I it illegal if a professionally trained midwife assists.

Crooke said This is a neutral common sense approach. We are not asking for anything unreasonable. Less than half of Alabama’s 67 counties even have a hospital. Of Alabama’s 55 rural counties only 17 have hospitals with maternity wards. Alabama is neck deep in a maternity care crisis. Decriminalization is a first step in dealing with this crisis.

State Senator Paul Bussman (R-Cullman) said, “What I am asking for is that you vote this up or down today. People have worked hard on this legislation. Give them a chance to get this to the floor.”

Bussman said Three years I stood here before this board sponsoring legislation that would have decriminalized midwifery. That bill had a regulatory framework, credentialing requirements, insurance requirements and that was stopped in committee.

State Senator Cam Ward (R-Alabaster) said, “Former Senator Taylor came in here with a tabling resolution. I remember that well.”

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Sen. Figures said, “Please don’t mention that name.”

Bussman said that we have not moved on this because we thought it could not get through the House. The house passed this, which no one in this body thought would ever happen.

Sen. Ward asked. Are you going to carry this in the Senate?

Sen. Bussman said, “I would love to carry this on the floor for Representative Johnson.”

Senator Ward who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee said, “We had a public hearing today. Next week there is going to be a vote on this.”

State Senator Linda Coleman Madison (D-Birmingham) said “These ladies have been vigilant.” I carried this myself one year. Over the years everything has been addressed. Watch the statistics in Alabama. We have a problem with infant mortality and low birth weight in Alabama.

Sen. Sanders said, “I am for the midwives.”

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The Senate Judiciary Committee will vote on the bill on Wednesday, May 10, 2017. If the committee gives it a favorable report, there will be 5 Legislative days for this bill to get onto the Senate calendar and for there to be a vote on the floor. While the midwives have grassroots organization and popular support; powerful special interests in the State are opposing decriminalization of midwifery and special interest money generally is able to kill legislation they do not like in Montgomery.


Brandon Moseley is a former reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter.

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