June 06, 2004

By Freeda Lynne Cathcart
Roanoke Times & World News (Roanoke, VA)
June 6, 2004 Sunday Metro Edition

One in a million, part of a small contingent in a sea of masses, I was witness to the historic March for Women's Lives on April 25 in Washington D.C.

My husband, four sons and I marched with the National Advocates for Pregnant Women. We were a testament that the March for Women's Lives was about a much broader issue than abortion rights.

It was about women's ability to access good quality health care. It was about whether women can be trusted to make their own health care decisions.

We marched in memory of Angela Carder, a 27-year-old pregnant woman who in the name of fetal rights was forced to have a Caesarean section that resulted in her death and the death of her fetus. We marched in celebration of childbirth and the rights of women and families to decide if or when a Caesarean is necessary. We marched in honor of mothers who bear and raise children without compensation or any kind of meaningful state support to ensure the health and welfare of their families.

In the last century, important gains have been made on behalf of women's rights. Yet, under current Supreme Court precedent, discrimination on the basis of pregnancy is not prohibited "sex" discrimination under the 14th Amendment.

Without this protection, government institutions, employers and health care providers may, under too many circumstances, continue to discriminate against women and limit their participation in society as full and equal citizens.

For example, while many states now permit adults to determine whether or what treatment they will accept if they become critically ill or incompetent, some states exclude pregnant women from this right of self-determination.

One college student was shocked to learn that several women in our country had been forced to have Caesarean sections against their wills. Many people were disturbed to learn that a mother was charged with murder in Utah not because she didn't have a Caesarean but because she didn't have it when one doctor thought she should and one of her twins died.

Many doctors are now trained to believe that there is a certain point during pregnancy where there is a gray area about whether or not the obstetrician is the mother's health care provider or the baby's. If the mother does not submit to an obstetrician's advice, anti-abortion, fetal rights ideology has convinced some doctors that they should try to get a court order to force her to submit.

Anti-choice legislation that uses terms like "unborn child" does more than erode abortion rights; it undermines maternal civil rights and puts health care providers at risk for prosecution.

A Pennsylvania certified professional midwife attended an out-of-hospital birth in 2002. During the birth, there was a complication, and the midwife asked the mother if she wanted to transfer to the hospital. The mother decided she wanted to proceed where they were.

After the birth, the baby was transferred to the hospital, where the baby died. During the inquest on the baby's death, a physician said the mother was incompetent to make a decision because she was in labor.
Recently, more than a year after the inquest, Judy Wilson, the midwife, was arrested on charges of manslaughter, endangering the life of a minor and practicing midwifery without a license. Pennsylvania does not provide a statute to license certified professional midwives.

When midwives face criminal charges rather than peer review, mothers lose access to their health care providers.

Last year, the U.S. infant mortality rose for the first time since 1958, placing us 26th in world. The main difference between the United States and the 25 better-performing countries is that mothers in the 25 have access to quality midwifery care.

Studies document that the best outcomes for birth, whether low- or high-risk, are out of hospital under the care of a qualified midwife.

Pick up a phone book. Look in the yellow pages for midwives or birthing centers. You won't find any in our area. You will find five listings for abortion providers.

During the 2004 General Assembly session, the Virginia Medical Society misled our legislators to believe that providing licensing for certified professional midwives wouldn't be prudent. Who does the state trust to make decisions regarding the well-being of an infant - the mother who has voluntarily chosen to carry her pregnancy or an obstetrician who gets paid to attend the birth?

The signs at the March on the Mall said, "If you can't trust me with a choice, how can you trust me with a child?" The truth is that many states in our nation still don't trust mothers with the ability to make decisions while they're pregnant or when they're giving birth. Those states make the decision for them by preventing them access to their health care provider of choice

Virginia legislators who do not vote to license certified professional midwifery as an autonomous profession do not trust mothers, and they are not pro-choice.

The March for Women's Lives was about much more than the right to have an abortion. The march was about trusting women with choices.

Having access to abortion and birth control are just the beginning of the journey for women's rights in regard to reproductive health care. The sign my son wrote reminded attendees of another step on our journey for equal rights: "Someday we'll have a choice; midwives will be one."
Cathcart, of Roanoke, is founder of Mothers United for Midwifery.


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