Academic journal article The Hastings Center Report

Licensing Midwives

Academic journal article The Hastings Center Report

Licensing Midwives

Article excerpt

Some twenty years after the feminist movement first condemned the medicalization of childbirth, battles continue over the extent to which pregnant women and midwives will be trusted to bring babies into the world at a distance from the technologies of modern obstetric medicine. Lately, skirmishes have erupted over state licensing laws that on their face seem to prohibit lay midwives from practicing their craft, even when expectant mothers know that the midwives are not registered nurses or licensed medical doctors, but nonetheless seek their services.

Courts considering challenges to these laws have reached contrary results, mostly as a result of varying governmental judgments about the risk childbirth normally poses to the life and health of women and infants. Some states believe that the overall risk is so great that nurses and physicians must be involved, regardless of a pregnant woman's preferences. Other states view childbirth as a generally safe and nondiseased condition, making the participation of a doctor or nurse-midwife a reasonable choice, but not a state-imposed requirement.

For example, in Lange-Kessler v. State Department of Ed?'cation (2 April 1997), a United States appeals court upheld New York's Professional Midwifery Practice Act, a law limiting the practice of midwifery to individuals who have completed a nursing program and who practice under a written agreement with a licensed physician or hospital. The act was challenged by a lay midwife, Julia Lange-Kessler, who learned to deliver babies while apprenticing with other midwives. Lange-Kessler claimed that she had brought 600 healthy infants into the world during her six years of midwifery. …

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