Moms plead with lawmakers to change birth center laws

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCIV) -- State representatives spent part of their day touring the Charleston Birth Place as mothers and midwives try to convince them to change the state law.

The staff at the birth center want to convince lawmakers they don't need doctors on site. Currently, they have doctors on call willing to show up an help when needed, but the Department of Health and Environmental Control has pushed them to have someone on site.

Initially, DHEC gave them 15 days, but DHEC is now offering about six month, until the end of the legislative session.

"It was a very uneasy feeling to know that things that I've put a lot of work in and heart into to prepare myself for this type of labor experience, to build that type of rapport here and have it all by other means than my own choices was very scary for me," said Nicole Smith.

Smith says just weeks ago her birth plan was threatened when the Charleston Birth Place was told by DHEC they're no longer in compliance with state legislation. According to letters sent from DHEC,{} physicians must now be on site at the birth place and not just on-call during hours of operation.

"DHEC has given us six months to either comply with the law. We're still not sure what their version of the law is, they haven't explained to us why we are not compliant or change the law," said Lesley Rathburn, the owner of Charleston Birth Place.

"What we are working on now is introducing a law to base licenser for birth centers on national standards," she added.

Rathburn says they're inviting every state legislator to visit the center in the hopes of changing the law for all six of the birthing centers across South Carolina to be covered under national standards, instead of the different laws set by the state.

"I just want them to know its a safe place for mother to come and deliver," Smith said.

DHEC's director Catherine Templeton says not much has changed on the agency's end since the original Dec. 7 deadline. She says unless the law is changed in the next session, her office will enforce what's in the best interest of mothers and babies.

DHEC representatives say they've sent repeated letters to the birthing centers, clarifying that their agency is only requiring that doctors to be on-call, not on-site during hours of operation. According to DHEC's Jim Beasley, on-call means a physician must be reached and at the birthing center in 30 minutes, to assist during hours of operation, if needed.

Beasley says this is not a new law or regulation.

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