Legislation drafted in support of South Carolina birthing centers

By Ava Wilhite

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCIV) The Charleston Birth Place is still fighting to keep its doors open even though it does not have a physician on site, something the state health department has demanded of all birthing centers.

The Department of Health and Environmental Control this month sent another letter reminding birthing centers of the June deadline, but new legislation may solve the birthing center's problems.

It's a new House bill conceived from the recent struggles of the Charleston Birth Place.

"We attempted to schedule meetings face to face meetings with DHEC, I actually spoke directly myself to Gov. Haley and Catherine Templeton offering to meet, so that we could try to come to an agreement and work collaboratively together, but that wasn't able to happen," said Lesley Rathbun.

Rathbun, the owner of Charleston Birth place, hoped a new year would bring change to an on going battle between South Carolina birthing centers and DHEC.

Last November, DHEC sent letters to centers telling them they're not in compliance with state statute.

"They were requiring the physician to be available to come physically to the birth center and that if the law, isn't changed by mid-June that they were going to take further action," said Rathbun. {}

She argues her center only needs to have physicians on call, and not on the premises, which is where she says a change in legislation is needed. Rathbun reached out to Summerville Rep. Jenny Horne to help draft a bill.

"Because the statute was so vague as to what was really required this sets forth a much clearer direction not only for the birthing centers but for hospitals and physicians alike," said Horne.

Horne says she'd hoped the disagreement between the birthing centers and DHEC would have been resolved by now, but she believes it's important for pregnant women to have a choice.

"One-to-two percent of births in this state occur in birthing centers. So, it's a small percentage of births, but we want to make sure that those who prefer to have that experience still be able to have it," said Horne. {}{}

Horne says they're up against the clock to get the bill into the Senate. That has to happen by May 1. She says they have a limited amount of time to get the bill into committee.{}

DHEC officials said Friday the birthing center had to come into compliance or change the law, otherwise it could lose its license in June.