MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WIAT) — Birth center advocates in Alabama are praising a recent ruling allowing them to stay open as long as they meet standards set by the American Association of Birth Centers.
The Montgomery Circuit Court decision puts a pause on new Alabama Department of Public Health requirements that some birth centers say prevent them from operating.
Birth center providers in the state sued the health department over the new regulations, saying they require them to essentially be licensed as hospitals, even as they provide a different kind of care.
Dr. Heather Skanes is an OB/GYN who runs Oasis Family Birthing Center in Birmingham, which was one of the centers that sued the health department.
“It’s not our goal to create mini hospitals, our goal is to create birth centers, which are a home-like environment for people to give birth,” Skanes said.
One requirement from ADPH says a birth center must have a contract with a hospital no more than 30 minutes away. Another mandates a center have at least one physician and two registered nurses.
Because of the regulations, Skanes said she had to pause operations back in July.
“They’ve asked us to stop accepting new patients for our birthing center,” Skanes said.
Skanes and others in the case say the rules amount to a “de facto ban on birth centers.” Now that the judge has temporarily sided with the centers as the case moves forward, Skanes is preparing to reopen.
ADPH documents say the regulations are needed for the health and safety of mothers and newborns. In a court filing, ADPH says the state has a duty to regulate health care providers.
Those with ACLU Alabama are representing Oasis Family Birthing Center in the case.
Executive Director JaTaune Bosby Gilchrist says the centers provide a much-needed alternative, considering Alabama’s high infant and maternal mortality rates and lack of nearby hospitals in some rural areas.
“Especially as we’re seeing the influx of hospitals closing, obstetrics and labor services no longer being available. And they’re filling the gap for the maternity care deserts that we are unfortunately seeing in the state of Alabama,” Gilchrist said.
The Alabama Department of Public Health would not comment on the pending litigation.