Current MS law states that [paraphrase], “any woman whose sole occupation and source of income is catching babies is considered a midwife, and is not practicing medicine.” There is really no regulation at all, so I suppose the title of this post is a little misleading, because CPMs aren’t currently illegal. However, they are legal only by judicial interpretation, and I don’t know that there is anything to prevent the next judge in line to make an opposing interpretation, and say that all midwives are practicing medicine, and doing so without a license.
Last year, there was an effort made to make all non-nurse midwives illegal in the state of Mississippi. From what I understand, what happened was that there was one or more bad outcomes when midwives (or a midwife) from another state had come to Mississippi to practice, after she/they had lost licensure in their home state. One or more nurses and/or doctors involved in the case were appalled, and got a bill passed through the House before any home-birth supporter found out about it, but we fortunately rallied against it, “raised a ruckus” about it, and got it killed in the Senate.
Then we got organized.
I became one of several board members of Mississippi Friends of Midwives, and we started working with midwives to get legislation passed to legally define midwives in Mississippi, and to have that definition be the CPM. There are several reasons for that, including, as I said above, that we’re possibly one judicial interpretation away from midwifery being defined as a practice of medicine, and midwives being then guilty of practicing medicine without a license. Also, for consumers, knowing that their midwife has been certified means that she has demonstrated her skills and ability as a midwife, so the consumer doesn’t have to just take her word for it. [This may be easy if the mom has 9 months or more to prepare for it, but what if she were recently moved to the state, or decided midway through her pregnancy that she didn't want to give birth at her nearest hospital because they had a lot of rules and regulations she didn't want to fight - such as requiring her to stay in bed, have an IV, get Pitocin, baby immediately to the nursery for hours, etc.] Also, no state that has passed CPM legislation has gone back and made CPMs illegal, so we view this as a protection of the CPM and of non-nurse midwifery as well as of midwife-attended home birth. Some states, such as Illinois and Alabama have made it illegal for CPMs and indeed all non-nurse midwives to attend births, and last year, Mississippi was just a few days away from joining their ranks. Since CNMs in Mississippi do not (perhaps legally cannot) attend home births, that would have made midwife-attended home-birth illegal. Since there are only a handful of CNMs in Mississippi, and none in the northern half or more of the state, that would have kept most of the state’s women from having a midwife attend them in labor.
Currently, we have legislation introduced into the House, HB 207, which was approved by the committee yesterday (Jan. 26). We’re not sure when it will come to the floor for a full vote, but based on the legislative calendar, it appears that the deadline for passage is Valentine’s Day, so it may be brought up as early as next week.
We’ve worked hard up to this point, with building support among midwifery advocates and home-birth supporters, and now it’s time to keep working hard, and to get others to work with us. Now is the time when the legislators need to hear from their constituents and from midwifery advocates and supporters. You don’t have to plan on giving birth at home in Mississippi (or anywhere else); you don’t even have to want to give birth at home; you just have to support the right of other women to have midwives legally attend them if they choose to give birth at home.
Last year when we killed the anti-midwifery bill, the state Capitol logged about 5000 phone calls on the issue. Is that a lot, or not very much? Perhaps in some states, that’s not too much, but it was “unprecedented” to the legislators, and perhaps set a record. Every phone call counts. Every email counts. Personal visits are most important. MS Friends of Midwives is working to coordinate visits and phone calls, primarily to make sure that every Representative is contacted in person, and also to make sure we know where the Representatives stand on this issue, and to provide education about what this bill does, what midwives do, etc. If they have any questions or problems with the bill, we want to be able to answer those questions. [So if you support us, please at least join us on facebook so we can better coordinate our efforts!]
Because the legislation was heavily modified and made much more simple in committee (much to our liking! thank you Omeria Scott!!) it is being considered as a “Committee Substitute,” which requires a 3/5 majority to pass, instead of just a simple majority. Now, more than ever, every vote counts. Last year, the anti-midwifery bill passed the House by a large margin; however, I don’t think that the legislators are against midwives. Many of our representatives and senators are older, and they and all their siblings were born at home, so don’t have a problem with it; plus, when many legislators were contacted about their voting for last year’s bill, they were confused by their constituents’ irritation at voting for the bill, because they thought they were voting for midwives and for keeping midwifery legal. They didn’t realize last year that their vote would have made midwife-attended home births illegal in the state of Mississippi.
The very good thing about Mississippi, is that we are a rural state, and apparently the legislators still realize that they were elected to represent their constituents, so finding out that one of their constituents supports a bill is worth a lot to them. In fact, in a recent meeting with one of the legislators, when asked why the legislator voted for the anti-midwifery bill last year, the legislator said that s/he was contacted by a constituent asking him/her to vote for it. One person. Never underestimate the power of one!
What can you do to support our efforts and this bill? Many things!
- If you are in Mississippi, you can call and email your Representative [full list here; find out who is your Rep here], telling him or her that you are a constituent, and that you support HB 207 [and if you're not in Mississippi, or you are contacting other Representatives, you can leave off the "constituent" part ].
- If you know anybody in Mississippi, you can pass the word along to them so that they can call and email (and if possible, visit!) their legislators, asking them to support this bill. If you hear back from any of the Representatives, please pass the information along to our organization [our email is info at msfriendsofmidwives dot com], so that we can keep up with who has been contacted and how everybody is voting.
- Also, donations would be greatly appreciated (even just a few dollars will help)! Mississippi is not a very populous state but it is a geographically big one, and it takes most of us on the Board a minimum of 3 hours (all highway time!) to drive to the state capital; it’s over 200 miles for me , and takes me close to 4 hours to get there, and 4 hours to get back home. As you may realize, it takes a lot of gas to drive 400+ miles, which costs money. We on the Board are just moms, and in addition to doing all this on a completely volunteer basis, spending quite a bit of time on this, all of us have given above and beyond that, including paying for things out of our own pockets when it was necessary. It would be nice to have some of the cost of gas or a hotel room offset by your generous donation. Really, no donation is too small!
- Please join our newsletter! This is the single best way to get the information you need to know about this bill. While we update our facebook page often, you know how it is when you have several hundred friends plus probably another several hundred other groups and pages you like — it’s easy to overlook an update on your news feed. But the newsletter is sent to your email address, so will be there until and unless you delete it after you’ve read it. [And of course, your information will never be given or sold to anybody -- this is strictly from us to you; and we only ask for your address (which is optional) so that we know who your elected representatives are, so we can urge you to contact them as a constituent, if necessary.]
- You can also become a paid member on our Big Tent group (memberships start at only $15), follow us on Twitter, read our blog, and watch us on YouTube.
- Finally, you can blog about it, share this post or other information on facebook and Twitter, and invite your friends to join our facebook group — all that social networking stuff we’re all so addicted to these days.
A few years ago, Wisconsin was the first state to pass the CPM legislation on the first attempt. We hope to be the second. Thank you all so much for your support!
Updated to add: Here is a link to a spreadsheet with all the Representatives’ office email addresses and phone numbers.