The option to have a home birth could soon become a thing of the past following new federal government regulations, The Australian reports.
In an attempt to streamline the registration requirements of Australian health professionals the Rudd Government has deemed that from mid-2010, all midwives will need to hold professional indemnity insurance. This insurance is unlikely to be made available to independent midwives, through which the majority of women access homebirth services, effectively making this safe birthing choice for low-risk women illegal.
Once the regime begins, independent midwives will not legally be able to attend a birth at a home, except for the very few midwives employed by publicly funded services permitted in the eyes of the law. There is only one such service in NSW.
The number of Australian women opting for homebirths is small with around 0.3 percent in 2006 (just over 700 births) choosing to have their baby in this way, according to The Australian.
But those opposed to the new regulations point out that it is taking the choice away from the women, pushing the practice underground and leaving a potential risk for women to give birth unattended. If these services were Commonwealth funded then perhaps the number of women choosing to birth in their own homes would increase in line with countries such as the UK where homebirths represent more than 10 times the proportion of homebirths in Australia, according to The Australian.
Private midwifery is the only health profession that is not covered by indemnity insurance and women who choose homebirth are the only consumers of health who are not covered. In other First World countries such as New Zealand and the UK, homebirth is funded as a public health strategy. This does not appear to be a reality that will be seen in Australia anytime soon.
The choice for the federal government not to support private midwives' indemnity costs has been deemed unfair by homebirth supporters, obstetricians and other doctors, particularly as the government spends a significant amount of money supporting obstetricians and doctors.
The commonly held perception that home birthing is a less safe option than hospital births has been challenged by numerous studies over the years. One such report, published in the British Medical Journal in 2005, studied 5418 women who were planning a homebirth and concluded giving birth at home, with the care of a midwife, had lower rates of medical intervention such as episiotomy, the use of forceps and Caesarean, and no greater risk of an infant dying than birthing in a hospital.
To read the full report, visit the federal government's Department of Health and Ageing website.
For more consumer group information check out the Maternity Coalition website.
Your say: Is this move by the federal government jeopardising women's rights? Should women be able to birth in the place that they feel is safest for them? We want to hear your views.