The Alabama Department of Public Health on Thursday approved regulations for the state’s birthing centers despite harsh criticisms and a lawsuit from multiple birthing center owners.
The new rules would require birthing centers to have oversight by a physician or medical director, and be within 30 minutes of a hospital with OB-GYN services.
The rules come within a week of a lawsuit filed by the Alabama ACLU on behalf of multiple birthing centers claiming that proposed rules are onerous and have created a “de facto ban” on birthing centers.
It’s not clear exactly what changes were made Thursday, but state health officer Dr. Scott Harris said the State Committee on Public Health refrained from making more “restrictive changes” to prevent restarting the public comment period.
“More restrictive changes would’ve reset the clock and we would have to come back for another public comment,” Harris said.
A hearing has been set for September 28 to hear the ACLU’s motion for a preliminary injunction “either from requiring any freestanding birth center operating in the midwifery model of care to obtain a hospital license under Alabama Code section 22-21-22 … or in the alternative, from imposing a de facto ban on such birth centers by failing to provide any path to the licensure that Defendants now claim is required.”
In the new rules, midwives could work in the birthing centers, under the oversight of a physician. Midwifery had been banned in the state since 1967, until being lifted in 2017. Advocates have pointed to birthing centers and midwifery as a potential tool to combat Alabama’s high infant and maternal mortality rate.
Approximately one-third of all Alabamians live in a county without access to maternity care.