- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 19, 2014

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) - Britney Williams of Ashville said she and her husband always knew they wanted to deliver their babies at home with a midwife.

They were shocked to learn that Alabama law made it illegal to do so.

Williams said they made the choice to travel to Tennessee so she could legally have a midwife-attended birth.

The House Health Committee on Wednesday held a public hearing on a bill to decriminalize midwifery and allow midwives to deliver babies at a woman’s home without risk of criminal prosecution. The proposal, as it has for nearly a decade, had the state’s medical establishment squaring off with home birth advocates over the safety of home birth with non-nurse midwives.

“Women have a right to have a baby where they choose to have a baby,” bill sponsor Sen. Paul Bussman, R-Cullman, said.

“Let me say this, the women who choose to do this are not ignorant. Many are highly educated. They’ve done their homework. They’ve looked at the issue,” Bussman said.

Bussman said right now a woman is allowed to deliver her baby at home by herself, or with an untrained person, and that is legal. If a midwife assists her, the midwife is committing a crime, he said.

Alabama only currently allows nurse-midwives, who deliver babies in hospitals under a doctor’s supervision.

The Alabama Department of Public Health and the state nurses association spoke out against the bill.

Grace Thomas, assistant state health officer for Family Health Services at the Alabama Department of Public Health, said she was concerned about non-nurses delivering babies, particularly in pregnancies with complications.

Thomas said the state already struggles with one of the highest infant-mortality rates in the state.

“Lay midwives performing home delivery can only worsen this issue,” Thomas said.

Dr. Eleanor Murray, a Decatur obstetrician and gynecologist, said a patient was transported to her care four days ago after attempting to deliver in Tennessee with a midwife.

The mother was 42 weeks pregnant and there were multiple complications with the pregnancy, she said. They included that the baby had group B strep infection, which if caught earlier could have been treated with IV antibiotics to the mother, she said. Murray said the baby has a poor prognosis.

“I do feel strongly if she had labored in a hospital setting, some of these things, prophylactic antibiotics to start with, could have made a real change in this baby’s outcome,” Murray said.

Williams said her first delivery went off without a hitch. Even though the baby’s shoulder got stuck during delivery, the midwives helped her adjust positions to get the baby out safely without a cesarean section. For her second, she had to deliver on the side of the road when the baby arrived before they made it to Tennessee.

“The midwives risked prosecution by coming to Alabama to meet me because they knew I wasn’t going to make it,” she said.

“We made it to Georgia, pulled off on the side of the road and they did a great job. I did not feel unsafe in the slightest,” Williams said.

The bill has been proposed for eight years in the Alabama Legislature. With four meeting days remaining in the session, it again has a grim outlook for winning final approval.

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