New law allows Delaware non-nurse midwives to be licensed

Surrounded by legislators and advocates, Gov. Jack Markell holds up a copy of House Bill 70, which makes it easier for midwives to practice in the state. (Delaware State News photo by Matt Bittle)

Surrounded by legislators and advocates, Gov. Jack Markell holds up a copy of House Bill 70, which makes it easier for midwives to practice in the state. (Delaware State News photo by Matt Bittle)

DOVER — For years, women wanting to give birth at home with a midwife attending faced difficulties.

Because midwifery has been prohibited, at least in practice if not in law, pregnant mothers were forced to look outside the state to find a midwife.

Certified professional midwife Susan DiNatale didn’t hesitate when asked why women should be allowed to have a home birth with a midwife attending.

“It’s their right as a human being to choose where and with whom they give birth,” the Dover resident insisted.

While midwifery was not illegal in Delaware, midwives needed to gain approval through a partnership with a doctor.

According to Ms. DiNatale, that proved exceedingly difficult.

“You had to have a collaborative agreement with a competing practice and none of them were willing to do that,” she said. “And it’s not like we didn’t try.

“We tried for 10 years to do it, and no one would even speak to us or had the time. We would make a phone call and they would hang up on us. We’d send a letter and they’d never return it.”

Rep. Paul Baumbach, D-Newark, speaks about House Bill 70, of which he is the main backer.

Rep. Paul Baumbach, D-Newark, speaks about House Bill 70, of which he is the main backer.

A 2013 law made it a felony for a midwife to practice without an agreement with a medical professional.

House Bill 70 changes the standards by making it possible for midwives to become licensed and to practice with greater ease. Introduced in March, the bipartisan bill was signed into law by Gov. Jack Markell Tuesday, as lawmakers, midwives, public health officials and others gathered in Legislative Hall for a brief ceremony.

The bill allows non-nurse midwives to be licensed in Delaware. It also creates an advisory committee that provides recommendations to the statewide Board of Medical Licensure.

“So that’s the structure it sets up,” main sponsor Rep. Paul Baumbach, D-Newark, said. “I often describe it as it sets up the chassis for the car, and the upholstery and things like that come afterward.

“That is our Delaware system, that is the system that’s built in House Bill 70. So this provides a clear path for licensure for certified midwives and certified professional midwives, a path that was unavailable to them before today.”

The bill passed the General Assembly with only one vote in opposition. It includes compromises necessary to garner support from all individuals involved.

One such compromise, Rep. Baumbach said, is a portion of the bill that bars high-risk individuals, such as those who have diabetes and previously have had a Caesarean section, from having a home birth.

The C-section prohibition was not included in a version of a similar bill introduced last year, which passed the House despite resistance from some Democrats. Ultimately, the session ended before the bill could be heard in the Senate.

In 2015, with the proposal being filed in March, there was plenty of time.

Critics have said having a home birth with a midwife rather than in a hospital with a doctor leads to greater risks for mothers and children. Supporters, however, are confident the bill includes sufficient safeguards.

While Rep. Baumbach estimated there are only about 10 midwives in Delaware, Ms. DiNatale thinks more will become licensed because of the passage of the bill. S

She has been in the profession for 26 years and plans to deliver about three or four babies per month.

Staff writer Matt Bittle can be reached at 741-8250 or mbittle@newszap.com. Follow @MatthewCBittle on Twitter.

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