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News law could make homebirthing clandestine

New legislation proposing a national midwifery register could cause homebirths to become a clandestine practice, a Senate committee report revealed on Monday.The introduction of a number of new…

New legislation proposing a national midwifery register could cause homebirths to become a clandestine practice, a Senate committee report revealed on Monday.

The introduction of a number of new bills into Parliament in June included the requirement that midwives join the national register in order to qualify for insurance. However, private insurance no longer covers homebirthing and the Federal Government has refused to subsidise professional indemnity.

From July 2010, up to 200 independent midwives could be deregistered as a result of the new legislation and face fines of up to $30 000 if they continue to practice.

Lisa Metcalfe, president of the Maternity Coalition told Lawyers Weekly personal submissions to the Senate inquiry showed that women would continue to birth at home.

"That then puts the midwifes in an unenviable position to either do these homebirths on the sly so that they don't become deregistered or to practice as unregistered birth attendants, and that provides no security for women to be able to say 'I am being cared for by someone who meets eligibility criteria ... it offers me no reassurance that I'm actually being cared for my someone that has the requisite skills and experience,'" she said.

"So therefore those women will be birthing with potentially untrained, uneducated and unskilled birth attendants and that's a problem."

The Senate committee acknowledged that an unintended consequence of the legislation could be to drive homebirths underground unless an exemption was granted or an insurance product found.

Metcalfe said the Maternity Coalition advocated that indemnity be provided or sourced and subsidised by the government.

Federal Health Minister Nicola Roxon has indicated she is working with the states and territories on possible options to cover homebirthing, including implementing indemnity without making insurance prohibitively expensive.

- Sarah Sharples

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