New York Women Lose Right to Choose Home Birthing

One of the little noticed consequences of last month’s closure of St. Vincent’s Hospital in Greenwich Village is that New York City now lacks any midwives who can legally assist women in giving birth at home. We still have plenty of midwives who are qualified and willing to do the job. The only thing stopping them is the state.

Under a 1992 New York law, midwives are required to be approved by a hospital or an obstetrician (in addition to their other training). The establishment medical cartel, disliking competition, has been less than helpful. In fact, of all the hospitals in the city, St. Vincent’s was the only one willing to sponsor the midwives. The midwife association has contacted 75 other hospitals to step up to the plate and allow the midwives to resume practice, but so far they have received no response.

The U.K. Guardian (where are the New York papers on this story?) explores the predicament that the state has created:

Miriam Schwarzschild, one of the 13 [midwives in New York City], is now in the invidious position of either abandoning her clients or operating illegally. “Apparently by taking a woman’s blood pressure I am committing an illegal act,” she said. She has no doubts about what she will do: she will stand by the six to eight women she helps in labour every month, law be damned. She said she intends to “fly under the radar”, but is anxious about what would happen should she be reported to the state authorities. “At any time a nurse or doctor could report me, and once that happens they could go after my licence and shut me down.”

Jitters are spreading among the tiny community of home birth midwives. The rumour has circulated that one of them has already been shopped to the authorities by an obstetrician at a hospital where she transferred one of her clients in need of medical attention.

How ironic is it that in the state that gave birth (no pun intended) to the women’s liberation movement, 21st-century women are being denied the legal right to choose how they deliver their children?

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