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Protesting Midwives Group Sues Arizona Department of Health

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Standing on the sidewalk outside the Arizona Department of Health Services building in Phoenix today, midwife Wendi Cleckner addressed a crowd of about 200 men and women — many cradling babies or holding protest signs.

“What we want is safe birth in Arizona,” said Cleckner, president of the Arizona Association of Midwives, which organized the protest. “We want midwives’ hands free.”

The midwives and mothers gathered in Phoenix protested the 2013 midwifery regulations and restrictions required by the Arizona Department of Health. Midwives say the rules and polices endanger the health and safety of mothers and violate state and federal constitutions. 

“It’s our right to choose what we want done with our births,” says Cleckner, 41, a midwife for 15 years who has helped deliver more than a thousand babies. “We should be able to give birth the way we want to.”

During the protest, the group announced the filing of a lawsuit today in Maricopa County Superior Court against the state Department of Health to prevent it from enforcing midwife regulations they say are “harmful and unlawful," to their pregnant clients.

The midwifes association is asking for a permanent injunction against the health department.

“We wanted to make a formal declaration that we are filing a lawsuit against the Department of Health,” Cleckner says. “Enough is enough. They won’t listen to us any other way.”

When contacted by New Times,  a health department representative said the agency had no comment about the protest or the lawsuit.

Under current law, Arizona women who choose midwives are mandated to undergo certain medical testing and treatments, hourly vaginal exams during labor, and bureaucratic requirements on midwives they contend undermine good practice.

Additionally, midwives are forced to abandon care of pregnant clients who refuse certain testing or have birthing complications. Even after the women have stabilized, the midwives are barred form continuing to provide care following treatment in a hospital.

“These rules have impacted us very strongly, not being able to provide care after they’ve been transferred to a hospital,” says Alison Haasch, 43, a midwife for six years and owner of Birth Haven Birthing Center in Gilbert. “I can’t even allow women to decline vaginal exams, even though they increase the risk of infection.”

Midwives also contend that those who have voiced concerns about the current rules and polices have been harassed and intimidated by state officials.

“They’re fishing for stuff they could get us on—randomly pulling and searching our records and investigating midwives,” says Cleckner. “It’s a witch-hunt.”

While many of the protesters were midwives, several mothers who had used midwives also attended the rally. 

Kayla Svedin, 28, from San Tan, says she had two bad experiences with hospital births, including one that resulted in the loss of her second child. With her newborn daughter she used a midwife. 

“I think it’s important for the Department of Health to see it’s not just midwives complaining,” she says, holding her baby daughter. “It’s consumer driven. We are facing roadblocks where we don’t have appropriate care.”

Jacy Brooks, a 28-year-old Tempe mom, had complications with her first two births, including postpartum depression with her second child. However, under the current policy, midwives must discontinue service after six weeks of postpartum care, which she says was detrimental to her health.

“I needed guidance as a new mom of two. I could have really used [the midwife's] professionalism,” says Brooks, who attended the rally with her youngest daughter in a carrier on her back. “Consumers of home births, we are a small group, but we're growing because we see the flaws in pregnancy and birth management, as opposed to the midwife model of care and guidance [regarding] our birthing bodies.”

Brooks hopes the rally raises public attention about the regulations against midwives. 

“This is really serious,” she says. “This is Arizona. This is our home. We need this to be a safe place for us in the home-birth community.”

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