By: Cami McEvers
Five months ago, state Sen. Gretchen Whitmer stood side-by-side with a DeWitt couple whose baby died following a midwife-assisted birth and vowed to draft legislation to prevent it from happening again.
On Wednesday, the East Lansing Democrat followed through on her promise when she introduced a bill that would place a host of new regulations on midwives who deliver babies outside of hospitals.
Senate Bill 1208 would, among other things, require midwives to carry medical malpractice insurance and prohibit them from attempting home births with moms whose babies are breech or have other complications.
It also would prohibit satee licensure for midwives who have anything less than a degree as a registered nurse.
Currently, a portion of midwives now practicing in Michigan have a credential called Certified Professional Midwife, which has been controversial in the medical community because it does not require a college degree to obtain.
Proponents herald Whitmer’s bill as a way to make home births and other out-of-hospital births safer for Michigan moms and babies. But leading midwifery advocates said the bill goes in the wrong direction by limiting who can practice midwifery at a time when the demand for home births is rising.
“This bill does not represent our needs or concerns in any way,” said Jessica English, spokeswoman for Friends of Michihan Midwives, a nonprofit group that advocates for full legal recognition of home birth midwives.
“There are very few nurse midwives in the state of Michigan who provide out-of-hospital birth services. I can think of only a small handful, and it’s not enough to serve the needs of women around the state.”
Whitmer drafted the legislation after learning about the death of DeWitt infant Magnus Snyder in April 2011.
Magnus’s mother, Sara Snyder, was a client of the Greenhouse Birth Center in Okemos, a non-hospital-affiliated business which uses midwives instead of obstetricians for labor and delivery services.
Snyder has said her midwives knew going into her birth that her baby was breech but assured her it was safe to deliver outside a hospital. Magnus became stuck in his mother’s pelvis and was born lifeless. He spent 13 days in Sparrow Hospital’s Neo-Natal Intensive Care Unit before dying.
His parents sued the center, even though Greenhouse does not have medical malpractice insurance, according to the lawsuit.
The Snyders also launched a group called Safer Midwifery for Michigan to advocate for tighter restrictions on home births and midwifery practices. The group plans to campaign on behalf of Whitmer’s bill.
“This is the greatest gift anyone could have given us,” Sara Snyder said Wednesday.
“It makes us feel like we’ve been heard and like we’re able to do something good with Magnus’ death and help other people. It’s been really emotional for us.
“Someone is actually taking action to change things for the better.”
Whitmer’s bill is now the second piece of legislation pending in the Legislature regarding midwifery practices.
The House is considering a bill by Rep. Ed McBroom — an Upper Peninsula Republican — that would allow certified professional midwives to be licensed as health professionals in Michigan.
Proponents of McBroom’s bill argue that those with CPM credentials must complete a comprehensive, three- to five-year educational and apprenticeship program and pass a national exam.
McBroom’s bill is based on a national effort called the Big Push Campaign. So far, 27 states have licensed CPM holders.