Midwifery On Trial In Washington
This is a major turning point for women's rights in the US. This trial, and others involving midwives across the country, are attempting to set precedents that will continue to be used against midwives. The results of these proceedings will effect the right of all women to birth where and how they choose. This is not just about what's going on in Washington. This effects all of us: midwives, doulas, mamas, families, and anyone who is supportive of womens rights.
Due to pressure from pharmaceutical companies, hospitals, insurance agencies, and obstetricians (mostly white males), many hospitals in the US no longer offer vaginal breech births. The only choice for a woman with a breech baby is a midwife-attended home birth or a c-section.
Shaheeda Pierce, LM, CPM, has been charged by the Dept of Health with "attempt of vaginal breech birth at home." A breech birth is when the baby's bottom end is coming first, rather than the head. It occurs in 3-4% of pregnancies. Shaheeda has had hands-on experience with the special maneuvers that may be needed to facilitate breech birth. The mother and child are fine.
The Dept's stated position is that Shaheeda should lose her license for this. Home breech birth is not prohibited in Washington by any statute or administrative rule. As breech birth is not prohibited, some midwives here have attended planned home breech births, while some have attended surprise breeches only. The parents had specifically sought referral to a midwife who was trained in home breech birth, as they preferred to decline a planned cesarean. Hospitals in the Seattle and Tacoma areas are no longer offering non-surgical breech birth. A Seattle obstetrician at Swedish Medical Center had complained in this case. The doctor who will be paid by the state to testify has said in his declaration that all breeches should be delivered surgically.
In this case, state officials had arrived unannounced to the midwife's door and demanded immediate access to all her clients' private health records, going back 5 years, which they wanted to photocopy and take back to Olympia. They had no warrant, just a letter from their boss. When Shaheeda refused, citing the 4th Amendment of the Constitution, she was told if she refused to give up all the records immediately, they would make trouble for her license. And they have.
Another midwife has just been formally charged for attending VBACs (Women who have had a previous c-section, and now choose to birth vaginally. This is also not illegal in Washington state). This prosecution is also based on the "expert" opinion of their consultant obstetrician.
Many midwives have faced investigation here in Washington by the Dept of Health, especially in the past few years. The cost of these investigations has basically bankrupted the Midwifery Dept here, which is required by law to have all of its costs born by the midwives. Due to the increase in midwife investigations, the Midwifery Dept has not balanced its budget for the past 5 years, despite a doubling of the midwife license fee to over a thousand dollars per year. The increase in number of investigations and cost of investigations coincides exactly with a dept decision to appoint nurse-investigators to handle all investigations against the midwives. Previous to this, investigations were handled by the Investigative Services Unit, and costs were kept to budget. The cost overruns are staggering. The upshot of this is that each licensed midwife is subsidizing a policy of nurse-investigators and staff attorneys being given a blank check to prosecute midwives, even if the dept has received no complaint. Midwives pay the prosecutor $250 per hour to prosecute them, and they pay $175 per hour to the obstetrician who assists with the prosecutions.
The Dept admits to 29 investigations in the past 2 1/2 years, 7 of these investigations generated by the dept itself and not based on any outside complaint. Several midwives have lost their licenses or given up their practices due to the political situation here, and the expense and stress of litigation. We are now down to approximately 90 licensed midwives in Washington, when the average has been about 110 midwives. 3 years ago we had 118 licensed midwives.2 schools continue to graduate more midwives each year, yet numbers are dwindling.
The first 3 days of the hearing were Sept 19-20-21 in Tumwater, WA just south of Olympia. The state has paid a doctor and a former Washington midwife to testify against home breech birth as an option for parents declining planned surgical birth in our area.
Because the prosecutor used over 1½ days for her 4 witnesses, the trial is longer and more expensive. On our side, Dr Marsden Wagner, Shaheeda, and Holly Scholles have testified so far. Our lawyer, who specializes in licensing issues for health care professionals said that in his >30 years of practice, this is some of the best testimony he has ever heard on a case.
Nov 2 and 3, 2005 are scheduled as the final days of the hearing. See location below. The judge acknowledges our need to have a large hearing space to accommodate community members, and he has welcomed the babies.
Testifying in favor of Shaheeda' license and non-surgical birth options are: the parents involved in the case (mom and baby fine), other clients who have had breech babies, 7 midwives from Washington, Ina May Gaskin, Rahima Baldwin Dancy, Mary Cronk, Mabel Dzata, Anne Frye, Holly Scholles, Alison Osborn, Dr. Marsden Wagner, Dr. James Shuffield, Caroline Peterson of ICAN, Ken Johnson, Betty-Anne Daviss, and others.
A local fundraiser was done, which raised over $10,000, with a significant amount from local doctors and nurses. Midwives raised $1249 at the recent Midwives Alliance of North America conference. Approximately $1700 more has been donated since then. Legal expenses in this case are $31,500 so far, with 2 days more of court to go.
Please send prayers, moral support, and donations for legal expenses as we endeavor to hold the door open for normal birth and traditional and holistic midwifery practices. Please request the Dept of Health to drop the case. If the case continues, your attendance at the hearing is requested. Attending this hearing is like attending a midwifery conference on breech birth! Call Timia 206-817-5039 for carpooling. Call Fatima 253-921-5475 for housing if attending the hearing. Call Martha if you need childcare on Vashon Island to attend the hearing 206-463-0508.
Nov 2 and 3, 2005, 9 am start time
Dept of Health Bldg
20435 72nd Ave South
Suite 200, Room #1
Kent, WA 98032
You can email Shaheeda to be put on the list for updates, or you can check the website for changes: www.shaheedapierce.com
Send donations for legal defense fund to:
Shaheeda Pierce, LM, CPM
10307 SW Cemetery Rd
Vashon Island, WA 98070
Please call, fax, or write immediately to the following individuals, and /or your local state legislators to request the charges be dropped, and for the Midwifery Dept to be audited for its misappropriation of funds and outrageous prosecution of midwives, for things that aren't illegal and where clients are satisfied with their midwives. You could request that people responsible for the Midwifery Dept be reassigned from their positions if they cannot balance the budget and follow the US Constitution, federal, and state laws and rules. It also makes no sense to have "nurse-investigators" in charge of investigations against midwives. Send copies to all, and to Shaheeda.
Offers of services, favorable press contacts, helpers, auction items, and legislative contacts greatly appreciated. The judge says he has learned a great deal about childbirth so far in this case, and he really likes Ina May Gaskin's and Rahima Baldwin Dancy's breech birth training videos! He appreciates it when we use the baby doll and pelvis to demonstrate baby positions and maneuvers.
Gov Christine Gregoire
Ph 360-902-4111 PO Box 40002
Fax: 360-753-4110 Olympia, WA 98504
Prosecutor Alice Blado
Ph 360-753-6200 PO Box 40109
Fax 360-586-3564 Olympia, WA 98504
Mary Selecky, Secretary of Health
Ph 360-236-4010 PO Box 47890
Fax 360-586-7424 Olympia, WA 98504
Kendra Pitzler, Manager, Midwifery Dept
Ph 360-236-4723 1300 SE Quince St
Fax 360-236-4738 Olympia, WA 98504
Bonnie King, Health Prof Quality Assurance
Ph 360-236-4995 email: Bonnie.King@DOH.WA.GOV
Brian Sonntag, State Auditor If asking for audit of Midwifery Dept)
Ph 866-902-0360 PO Box 40021
Fax 360-664-0157 Olympia, WA 98504
The state website for directory of other state employee contacts is:
phone: (503) 254-5467
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