As statistics prove that better birth outcomes often come from the holistic care not usually offered by hospitals and OB/GYNs, the belief that there are different ways to give birth has spread. Women are no longer confined to having a highly sedated forceps delivery in hospital stirrups, or preemptive cesareans, as they were during the 1950s (or even 1970s!). Instead, an increasing number of hospitals recognize that women might prefer a more natural, drug-free experience, a more attentive attendant, or just the option to move around during labor. They are even beginning to accept that some women wish to give birth outside of their facilities – in birthing centers or at home.
Acknowledging that these different birthing practices exist has been a crucial first step towards improving maternal and child health. But when hospitals and insurance companies begin twisting the statistics put forth by these less conventional facilities, proposing mandates and regulations in hopes of saving money, it is a horrifying step backwards in terms of reproductive choice. And it is happening right under our noses!
The recent Health Care Reform bill, while only debatably beneficial for women’s health, did guarantee that Medicaid would cover birthing center costs, making birth options exponentially more accessible for women of all backgrounds. Don’t get me wrong – this ensures that more women have access to facilities and caregivers that accommodate their needs and listen to their preferences, not just run them through the hospital assembly line. It means that compassionate care is accessible to women who might otherwise not receive prenatal attention, accurate information on their options, or a delivery that allows them to feel empowered.
However, the cost disparity between hospital and birthing center care is not only attractive to Medicaid recipients. Hospitals too, can smell money-saving schemes. Many medical centers, insurance companies and state level policy-makers are working together to create regulations that actually require low-income women to attend birthing centers, rather than a hospital. Because the demedicalized care available in these facilities is less expensive than covering high-intervention treatment and a three-day hospital stay, the medical organizations are have no qualms undermining the decision-making power of these women, a demographic whose reproductive rights have been taken advantage of for centuries.
In the perfect world their policies would be harmless; a cost-efficient, relatively simple way to improve the care given during childbirth. It’s certainly true that there is no need to treat all births as high-risk, the way we do now. But the regulations are missing the point! Women fight for birthing centers and home births because they are sick of institutions telling them what to do with their body. No matter the justification, a restriction on reproductive rights is a blow to women’s health.