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Why We Need to Pay Attention to New York’s Birth Center Bill

Angela Johnson | February 7, 2022

These days, the news is full of stories about legislative threats to women’s reproductive rights. It’s never been more important to stay informed about attempts at the federal and local level to initiate obstacles to a mother’s childbirth options – including where they deliver their babies.   

Expectant mothers and birthing people looking for a more intimate environment with limited medical interventions often choose to deliver in a birth center rather than a hospital. A less invasive alternative, birth centers offer expectant families more of the comforts of home, including privacy, freedom to eat, and freedom to labor in the positions that feel most comfortable to them. In addition to offering more personalized attention, delivery in a freestanding birth center is proven to come with lower risks than hospital birth. The absence of medical intervention is better for the health of the birthing person and baby and puts less of a financial burden on our health care system in the long run. 

According to the CDC, 28 percent of out-of-hospital births happen in freestanding birth centers. But with only 384 centers in 37 U.S. states and Washington D.C., expectant mothers have few options if they are unable to have a home birth. Today, there are less than five birth centers in New York State. And now, a bill recently signed by Governor Kathy Hochul may make it even harder for women to find a birth center in the state for their delivery. 

Signed on New Year’s Eve 2021, the Midwifery Birth Center Bill is intended to overhaul current regulations around licensing and operating midwife-led birthing centers in the state. In a statement, the governor said, “Those who give birth deserve to be able to choose the best setting for themselves to do so. For too long, midwifery centers have faced undue obstacles on their paths to opening, creating a severe lack of these practices throughout our state. I am proud to sign legislation to remove these barriers and give New Yorkers welcoming children into this world a wider range of options for where they will deliver.” 

Although the bill was supposed to remove some of the hurdles that prevented prospective birth centers from completing the licensing process, the reality is that it may now be much more difficult for new birth centers in New York to cut through the red tape. Among the provisions in the bill, birth centers must both prove that they can meet the standards set forth by the Commission for the Accreditation of Birth Centers and have their application approved by the New York Public Health and Health Planning Commission. Birth centers must have an established address before starting the application process. And they must show proof that they can finance any construction or renovations needed on the site ahead of time. Critics of the new bill believe that these requirements may prove challenging for birth centers that don’t have strong financial support. And the financial burden may be even more difficult to manage in New York City, where real estate is more expensive than in other parts of the state. 

Less than two months after the signing, it’s still too early to tell how the bill will affect prospective birth centers seeking to be licensed by the state, particularly within the five boroughs, the most densely populated part of the state and home to nearly two million Black people and over two million Hispanics. But advocates for access to alternative birth options for women of color will definitely be watching to see how the new bill affects the state’s most vulnerable population.

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When Did We Abandon Our Black Midwives?
Relishing the Joys of Black Motherhood