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MO Midwifery Bill: Stillborn Again

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Advocates of home birthing will not likely see passage of a bill legalizing midwifery this year, but they're counting the current legislative session as the most successful to date.

That's mainly due to maneuvering by Sen. John Loudon, a Chesterfield Republican who twice brought up the bill, SB303, for voice votes before his chief opponent, Democratic senator Chuck Graham of Columbia, could react.

Graham has successfully blocked final passage, however, and Loudon says the last resort would be to attach the bill as an amendment to another next week, the last of the session.

Midwifery is a perennial issue in Missouri, where practicing without a doctor's oversight is a felony.

Advocates may have made a breakthrough in recruiting Loudon, a dutiful Republican, as a sponsor. The senator says midwifery might be the only bill he sponsors in 2008.

"I've carried a lot of water for business," says Loudon. "This is one issue that's very personal."

Loudon says he took up the banner of the "fascinating coalition" of religious groups and the "sandal-wearing hippie crowd from Boone County" after his wife, who was desperate to prevent a third miscarriage, received some advice from a would-be midwife.

Mary Ueland, a full-time ministry worker from Mansfield, was in Loudon's office lobbying in January 2006 when she struck up a conversation with Gina Loudon. The Loudons credit her advice with the successful birth of their son Robert Brewster III.

Loudon, whose co-sponsor in the Senate is U. City Democrat Joan Bray, is not the bill's only Republican advocate.

Cynthia Davis of O'Fallon has sponsored the House version for several years. She found her own zeal reignited after sitting on a Transatlantic flight from Paris next to Ina May Gaskin, the founder of modern American midwifery who began her practice while traveling in the legendary hippie bus caravan that was on its way to create the utopian community known as The Farm.

Davis sounds almost like a feminist activist when she talks about the issue. "Even though I've never had a home birth myself, I feel like I have to be a fierce defender of women who want to. The medical model treats women like a piece of meat."

According to the advocacy group Citizens for Midwifery, Missouri is one of eleven states in which lay midwives -- those who aren't also doctors or nurses -- are outlawed.

Missouri is the only state where midwifery is a felony. Home births are legal in Missouri, but a certified nurse midwife in attendance must be under a doctor's supervision.

Doctors who've spoken against legalizing lay midwives cite a lack of training and the fear of increased malpractice liability for physicians who associate with them. The bill's principal foe has been the Missouri State Medical Association.

-Kathleen McLaughlin


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