Battle over natural birth centers heats up again - WCBD-TV: News, Weather, and Sports for Charleston, SC

Battle over natural birth centers heats up again

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The battle over natural birth centers in South Carolina is heating up once again.

Back in November, the Department of Health and Environmental Control sent a letter to all six birthing centers in the state, saying they must have a physician come to the center if a mother is having an emergency during birth before going to the hospital.

It's a statute that has been in the books for years, but supporters of natural birth said it is an old rule.

Now, DHEC is continuing to push centers to adapt the rule.

A few weeks ago, the agency sent Charleston Birth Place a letter saying the center has to meet the regulations by June or they will be closed for good. Several supporters and mothers are hoping state lawmakers can pass new legislation that could keep the centers open.

House bill 55002 sets up a transfer agreement requirement between a birthing center and a hospital. Basically, the law states that hospitals and birthing centers have to a system in place in case the mother, or her newborn, has to be transferred to the hospital.

"It needs to be with the hospital, so that we know where we are going, who we are going to call, how we are going to get there, which mothers are coming, which paperwork to bring, so it's a very easy, smooth transition," Lesley Rathbun said.

Rathbun is the director of the birth place. She and several of the mothers at the center have recruited Representative Jenny Horne (R-Summerville) to sponsor the bill on the house side. Supporters of natural birth said it reduces costs to insurance companies and Medicaid. Numbers show the Caesarian sections are much below hospital averages.

For mothers who are planning to give birth at the center, time is running out for the bill to pass.

"It's just frustrating because I've given birth here before, and I hope to in august, and I really can't imagine giving birth anywhere else," Amber Allen said.

Allen is pregnant with her second child. She gave birth to her first child at the center three years ago. She said that DHEC is stuck in a year's old rule and is refusing to listen to the mothers.

"They're underestimating us. I don't think they realize how important this is to families," Allen said.

The lobby of Charleston Birth Place has become a battlefield. Posters are hanging in the lobby that feature the names and contact information for every single state lawmaker. Rosie the Riveter-inspired signs are posted throughout the center.

The mothers hope those signs and their phone calls to lawmakers will help expedite the process. For Rathbun, the short timeframe has been her biggest hurdle.

"Lawmakers are used to the system with changing rules and laws and legislation as a slow process, so trying to fast track this by June is a big challenge," Rathbun said.

If the bill doesn't get passed and DHEC steps in, Rathbun said she promises to file a lawsuit against the order, so the center has more time to get lawmakers on their side.

"I don't want to have to follow a lawsuit," she said. "I don't want to have to go that route, but it might be our only choice.

Allen is hoping that lawmakers and state officials see that this debate is much deeper than a woman's rights issue.

"This is not only a woman's right's issue, it's a family right's issue. This isn't a democratic or republican family. It affects everyone," Allen said.

The bill is currently awaiting discussion in a subcommittee. Rathbun said a hearing is scheduled in the coming weeks.


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