FROM TODAY'S ANNISTON STAR:
Unexpected ally boosts midwifery bill
By Markeshia Ricks
Star Capitol Correspondent
MONTGOMERY — A bill that would recognize and license certified professional midwives in Alabama received a boost Thursday from an unlikely ally: a retired physician.
During a public hearing on the matter in the Senate, Sen. Parker Griffith, D-Huntsville, voiced his support for moving the legislation forward.
Griffith, a radiation oncologist and deputy chairman of the Senate Health Committee, said there is no scientific basis for continuing to block certified professional midwives from practicing in Alabama.
Many of the objections to certified professional midwives are theoretical, he said.
"I believe if 22 other states have midwives and after 15 or 20 years they have not rescinded their programs it is because it's safe," he said. "This shouldn't be an issue."
Griffith said that considering the health needs among Alabama's more than 600,000 uninsured people and its high infant-mortality rate, the state's existing health-care providers have had long enough to fix things.
Dr. Don Williamson, state health officer, said one of the solutions to reducing Alabama's high infant-mortality rate is expanding prenatal care through physicians, not licensing midwives.
"There is a reason that the other 26 states haven't done this," he said. "My fear is that we would lose even one baby or one mama because we did this."
Griffith said having the option of using a certified professional midwife would be an opportunity to deliver better health care through collaboration among professionals.
"What I want to see among health-care providers is cooperation, not turf wars and boundary issues because you don't like how someone was trained or because you went to school longer than they did," he said.
Dr. Tom Kincer, a family practice physician and director of Montgomery Family Medicine Residency, said the bill does not foster collaboration, and if it passes he believes physicians will resist working with certified professional midwives.
"There are already certified nurse midwives and they work in hospitals," he said. "The liability is an issue, but under-training is also a concern. I believe observing and participating in 40 deliveries is not enough training."
Dr. Lawrence Jones of Anniston OB/GYN said he believes hospital births are best and he has reservations about even a physician performing an out-of-hospital delivery.
"A lot of the complications of pregnancy can happen all of a sudden during labor," said Jones, who recently moved to Anniston after practicing medicine for 26 years in Nebraska, where lay midwifery is illegal. "With a certified nurse midwife, I don't think I would have trouble working with someone like that, but I don't think I would stick my neck out that far for a lay midwife."
Committee chairwoman Sen. Linda Coleman, D-Birmingham, said the committee would vote on the bill at a later date. She said she hopes the two sides can find some middle ground before the bill is taken up again. Coleman is also the sponsor of the bill in the Senate.
Jennifer Crook Moore, president of the Alabama Birth Coalition, said this is the first time the bill has had a committee member advocate so strongly for it. The House version of the bill was postponed indefinitely earlier this month. "It definitely gives us more hope," Moore said.
The Alabama Birth Coalition will march and then rally at the State House Feb. 26, starting at 11:30 a.m. The coalition also will host a screening of the Ricki Lake film, "The Business of Being Born," at the Capri Theatre in Montgomery.