Today I and many others who are concerned about the impact of the government's legislative reforms for midwifery watched and listened to the presentations, streamed direct from the Senate Community Affairs Committee's Inquiry into the Health Legislation Amendment (Midwives and Nurse Practitioners) Bill 2009 and two related Bills. [If you follow the link you may note that only 34 of the reported 2000 submissions to the inquiry are available for public access today. My submission has not yet been posted at the site. I hope the Senators have read them.]
The people who appeared before the committee representing midwives and maternity consumer interests presented their arguments in a professional and exemplary way. Private midwifery practice and homebirth, the aspect of midwifery that has been presented as insignificant in the report of the Maternity Services Review, occupied a disproportionately large share of the time available.
I was able to listen to a few of the presentations and discussions. The Senators did seem to grasp the huge inequity in not only the proposed legislation, but also in the restrictions midwives in Australia face at present. Several speakers drew attention to the lurking shadow of unattended birth, and the expected increase in adverse outcomes as rates of unattended births rise.
I know several midwives who intend to continue as midwives for women planning homebirth after 1 July 2010; midwives who believe the moral and ethical duty of care to practise authentic midwifery for women who plan to give birth unassisted at home, outweighs the unreasonable and irrational attempts of this government to remove midwives from our private practices.
A newsletter from Homebirth Australia quotes feminist academic and homebirth mother, Monica Dux, who argued most eloquently that this struggle was simply not about homebirth, but more so that of a fundamental right for women. Her opinion piece appeared in The Age on 17 July
The assumption...that minority rights are unimportant and can be casually overridden - is both offensive and antithetical to the fundamental values of a liberal society... It is not only the rights of the minority who undertake home birth that are at stake here. This is an issue that impacts on all women.
In the past century we have seen a profound shift in the status of women, from being virtual chattels owned by husbands or fathers, to the attainment of full citizenship and (supposedly) equal rights with men. This hard-won legislative and cultural change has allowed women greater freedoms, but it has also given rise to an expectation of physical dignity, and of ownership over our own bodies, ...
The legislative squeezing-out of home birth represents a serious regression in this reform process. Given that the new laws will effectively make private midwife-assisted home birth illegal, the Federal Government is acting to deprive most women of the ability to make a fundamental choice about their own bodies; the choice to birth in a non-medicalised environment.
Giving birth under conditions that promote physiologically normal, healthy functioning of a mother's and baby's bodies is not like any other health issue. It does not require drugs or equipment or technique. The midwife's skill includes an ability to partner the birthing woman, in heart and mind and body, with the knowledge that together they can promote health.
We know that employees of legislators and health departments are reading the blogs that address the issues of maternity reform. That was stated in today's review. One Senator commented on the 'Bilby', a reference from this blog.
There is no simple way of ensuring that the needed amendments will be made before these legislative reforms become law. We must continue to draw attention to it, and demand that midwives be enabled to continue private practice, in the public interest.