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Arrest Of Charlotte Midwives Highlights Ongoing Debate

The arrest of two Charlotte-area midwives on Friday afternoon highlights the ongoing tension in the state over the practice of homebirths. North Carolina law requires midwives be registered nurses. The advocacy group "North Carolina Friends of Midwives" is pushing for the state to license and recognize Certified Professional Midwives who have received training, but are not nurses. "The trouble in North Carolina is that most women giving birth at home or in an out-of-hospital setting in North Carolina have to choose unlicensed care or give birth without any professional assistance at all, because NC is one of the states that does not license certified professional midwives," says Brooke Atkinson, board member for North Carolina Friends of Midwives. Atkinson does not know if the two midwives arrested on Friday in Charlotte are certified professional midwives, but says they are known in the homebirth community. Police say Mary Stewart Barhite and Jacqueline Lynn Profitt were involved in a water birth at a home in south Charlotte on December 16 when complications arose. Emergency responders transported the infant to Carolinas Medical Center for treatment. A short time later, the infant was pronounced deceased. Atkinson says the loss is tragic, but that all childbirth is risky. With the popularity of homebirths rising, North Carolina Friends of Midwives is backing a legislative measure to license and track midwives. Atkinson says parents currently have no formal way to find a trained midwife, so they resort to an "underground network." That can be a particular problem "for people who've moved to the area late in pregnancy and may not have time to find (a midwife)," says Atkinson. "If they want a homebirth they may be forced to have a birth without a licensed care provider - which obviously increases the risk factors." Previous attempts to create a state licensing program for Certified Professional Midwives in North Carolina have failed. Opponents say nurses and doctors are best equipped to assist in births.