Right to Homebirth Threatened in Australia

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Homebirthing is a common phenomenon in most parts of the world, but in Australia, fears surrounding the process are threatening its acceptability.

In New Zealand, Canada, the UK and the Netherlands, giving birth at home is a reasonable choice, supported by both governments and insurers.

In Australia, however, the choice is threatened by proposals from Health Minister Nicola Roxon to leave midwives without insurance or funding to assist home births.

The curbing of that choice started last year when Ms Roxon initiated the Maternity Services Review and announced Medicare funding for midwives in the 2009 budget. In conjunction, she proposed the National Registration and Accreditation Scheme (NRAS) legislation, which would require health professionals to hold indemnity insurance so as to safeguard consumer safety.

... the great omission in her proposal was homebirth midwives, who were not offered funding or indemnity insurance ... In effect, this would condemn homebirth midwives to operate illegally if they wanted to continue delivering babies.

... Gary Hastie, who has delivered all four of his children at home while supporting other home birthers, believes homebirthing “is the most natural process for the woman”.

However, he has observed an increasing fear of home births, distrust of a woman’s ability to have a natural birth and a demonisation of ... woman’s choice. “It’s a woman’ right to choose where and how and with who she gives birth,” he said.

Nicola Roxon says she supports women having a choice, but is concerned with the consumer and ensuring a system of registration. It is “about lifting standards and ensuring that people are both registered, accredited and insured,” she said.

... Dr Ted Weaver, says it is not only the size of Australia that is a problem, but also cultural differences. “The infrastructure in other countries is completely different from the infrastructure in Australia–these countries have a tradition of home birth.”

Dr Weaver said the biggest danger lies when women get transferred to a hospital after complications arise ...

Doubts are expressed too about how qualified Australian midwives are. Dr Weaver says: “Their [overseas] midwives are better trained and act along more stringent guidelines, and the selection for home birth is much more rigorous than in Australia.”

... While most high-risk women will be referred to a hospital by a midwife, ... a very small portion of these women who consciously choose home birth ... if they are considered “high risk”. “High risk” includes women who are having twins ...

Many women, including those considered “high risk”, do not want a hospital birth, which is considered high intervention and impersonal ...

Melissa Maimann, Essential Birth Consulting 0400 418 448