Community Midwife Legislation Stalls in Albany

Midwife holding up a vernix covered newborn
Midwife holding up a vernix covered newborn just after he was born . Copyright: zlikovec

A bill that would allow women more comfortable with having babies at home through the use of licensed midwives remained in limbo as the state legislative session ended last week.

State Sen. Julia Salazar (D-Brooklyn) sponsored the legislation, S7078, called the Community Midwife Bill, which would authorize Certified Professional Midwives (CPM) to practice in New York State. 

Currently, New York only recognizes Certified Nurse-Midwives (CNM) and Certified Midwives (CM). Both require graduate-level degrees. Though becoming a CPM does not require an advanced degree, CPMs must go through an intense certification process and fulfill substantial experience requirements. 

“CPM specializes in community birth, including in homes and birth centers. These practitioners, whom this bill would license as Community Midwives, are an integral part of the women’s health and birth care continuum. Community Practice Midwives are able to offer a level of culturally sensitive care and comfort that birthing people often struggle to find in the hospital birth system,” said Salazar.

Advocates for the proposed measure argue that women of color are increasingly considering alternatives to hospital settings for giving birth because of the high maternal mortality rate in the United States which stands at 17 deaths for every 100,000 births. 

That number nearly doubles for Black women. In New York State, Black women are 8-12 times more likely to die in childbirth than their white counterparts, according to advocates of the measure.. 

Opponents argue that the legislation as written falls short of medical; consensus and safety.

“We support expansion of midwifery options for all women, particularly women in low-income communities who lack access to this option. We must ensure, however, that midwifery care is safe and provides high-quality care to mothers and their babies. This legislation does not do that,” says Carl Ginsburg of the New York State Nurses Association. 

“Expanding access to midwifery services is not a matter of creating a new lower-level title, as proposed by this legislation. It is  the lack of interest, funding and support from the state and hospital networks to expand access to these services that is the real problem that needs to be addressed,” Ginsburg added.

During the pandemic, Governor Cuomo issued an executive order allowing CPMs to practice, as well as midwives licensed out of state to deliver babies in the home to alleviate hospital’s burden to deal with the pandemic. The order is set to expire on June 24.

The bill did not pass in this session and currently remains in the Higher Education Committee in both state legislative chambers. But birth justice advocates, like midwife and founder of Birth from the Earth, Nubia Earth-Martin, are hoping it will be reintroduced next session. 

“What it means for my community is educating them about their options for giving birth,” says Earth-Martin. “I never tell somebody they should have a home birth because it’s not for everyone. But I want them to know what their options are, especially Black women.”