A proposed bill introduced in late February has midwives across the state rattled.

The South Carolina Lay Midwife Act proposes a host of changes that could be a “de facto ban” on home births and licensed midwives, said student midwife and apprentice Jennifer O'Briant,

The bill would require an obstetrician to sponsor and supervise licensed midwives. Midwives, typically not obstetricians, attend home births. O'Briant, a former Aiken resident now residing in Columbia, said that state regulations already require midwives to have a collaborative relationship with an obstetric provider.

The bill also defines those in the profession as “lay midwives,” which is someone who “may have had little formal training or recognized professional education in midwifery.”

O'Briant said that from 2009 to 2011, there was a 55 percent increase in out-of-hospital births in South Carolina, and this bill could strip families of the choice to choose a safe out-of-hospital birth, especially with the bill's definition of “lay midwives” in place.

“It's a reckless piece of legislation with derogatory language, and we were all surprised by it,” O'Briant said.

Local midwife Tavish Brinton said that being referred to as a layperson is insulting because of the years of training that is completed to accomplish her profession. Brinton is a licensed South Carolina midwife of 30 years and said a lot of work goes into getting certified. Currently, prospective midwives must pass both the North American Registry of Midwives national written exam and an oral exam offered through S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control.

The bill proposes to change the process of midwife licensing by calling for an advisory committee to be established under the state Board of Medical Examiners, which would handle certification.

Elizabeth Alger is a licensed midwife apprentice who said that requiring the supervision of an obstetrician is not economically feasible. She added that the standards set by DHEC for licensed midwives in this state are more stringent than what is required by the North America Registry of Midwives.

“If there is anything that South Carolina midwives are not, it's uneducated,” Alger said.

Ashley Stevenson, co-leader of CSRA Birthing Connections, had a midwife and planned a home birth though she had to have a Caesarean section. Stevenson said that midwives do not handle any high-risk pregnancies, and if a problem arises during a home birth, she said a licensed midwife is competent enough to know when a trip to the hospital is necessary.

Brinton said if this bill were to pass, women would lose the freedom to choose to give birth at home or in a birth center rather than a hospital.

“This is an option in maternity care that is very much worth preserving, and this is the option of normal, time-intensive prenatal care and physiologic conduct of labor and birth,” Brinton said.

The bill has sparked a lot of concern and attention around the state. More than 4,500 have signed an online petition started by O'Briant on Sunday.

Calls made by the Aiken Standard to the bill's co-sponsors, which includes representatives Kris Crawford, J. Anne Parks, Robert Ridgeway III and Phyllis Henderson, were not returned by press time. Crawford did tell WLTX in Columbia that the purpose is to ensure that the care provided by midwives is compliant to the standards of the health care industry and that the bill needs more work.