June 24, 2018
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Midwives, moms seeking input about licensing home births in Maine

By Abigail Curtis, BDN Staff

BELFAST, Maine — Laura Donnelly, a certified professional midwife from Searsport, cares a lot about women’s continued ability to give birth at their homes.

So does Nicolle Littrell, a Belfast filmmaker, University of Maine educator and activist, who is committed to helping both mothers and midwives navigate the path to home birth and freely-made birthing choices.

That’s why the two women are holding a gathering called, “MamaBaby, Midwives and the Law,” at 10:30 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 28, at the Belfast Free Library. This informational meeting is for anyone interested in learning how the possibility of licensing home birth midwives could affect women’s birth options and rights. The goal is to be proactive before any laws are brought forward.

Home births account for just 1 to 1.5 percent of births statewide, but interest among mothers and potential mothers seems to be going up. Waldo County has a half-dozen practicing home birth midwives and between 30 and 60 women give birth at home in the county each year.

“It’s a viable choice for women in Maine,” Littrell said, adding that she hopes the meeting will get people excited to add their voice to any legislation. “Hopefully it will get people interested and motivated. Rather than a consumer just being handed a script, this is what you need to tell your legislators.”

Donnelly said that they want to have a bill that “meets the needs of midwives and moms.”

About half of the states in the country have laws around licensing home birth midwives. Maine is not one of them, but some of the state’s midwives are talking about proposing a bill to do that. There are benefits to licensing — including the likelihood that more insurers would cover home births — but also some caveats, Donnelly and Littrell said.

“Mandatory licensure would criminalize midwives who don’t have that credential,” Littrell said. “It is one of the potential pitfalls of licensure.”

Some states that have mandatory licensure for home birth midwives have created laws that have proved to be too strict to be practical, including California, which just removed a provision that requires a physician to supervise midwives, Donnelly said.

“What has happened in all the other states is that midwives put forward a bill with good intentions,” she said. “In the rulemaking process, the medical lobbyists get involved. It takes choice out of women’s hands and puts it into the hands of the state.”

Littrell said that consumers do matter when it comes to licensing home birth midwives.

‘It’s got to start with a well-crafted bill. We feel that consumers need to be part of that process,” she said.

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