HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Lawmakers are considering a controversial proposal that would require midwives to be licensed by the state before July 1, 2020.
Midwives were regulated in Hawaii from the 1930′s, but haven’t been since the late 90′s when nurse-midwives were placed under the Board of Nursing.
Supporters say Hawaii is one of only 17 states that currently does not regulate the practice of midwifery, leaving mothers here no way of telling who is qualified to perform a birth and who isn't.
"A license conveys a certain amount of expertise and training," said State Rep. Della Au Belatti, member of the Women's Legislative Caucus. "This bill is important because we know the practice of home birth has resulted in some very negative consequences in our communities, to our mothers, as well as babies."
But opponents argue the proposal will make the traditional practice illegal for many midwives.
Sara Kahele is a doula, training to be a midwife. She is also a mother of four.
After traumatic experiences in the hospital with her first two children, she says she chose to use a midwife for her last two.
“I knew that I could trust my midwife,” said Kahele. “She carried an oxygen tank, she knew how to suture if I tore, I was very confident.”
Kahele says she believes the bill takes away a woman's right to choose how she gives birth.
She says under the proposal, her midwife, who has decades of experience, as well as many others, would not be allowed to practice.
"She's really dear to me, and to think that she wouldn't be able to attend a future birth of mine or my daughter's birth, it breaks my heart because she's one of the most educated people that I know," said Kahele.
The measure exempts Native Hawaiian healers and includes a three-year exemption for birth attendants, to give them time to develop their own standards and accountability measures.
Bellati says like other health services out there, regulations are needed to keep the public safe.
"Having a birth plan, having an understanding that there's a relationship possibly with a hospital in the event something does go wrong, these are some of the kinds of standards we would have through this licensure program," said Belatti.
The proposal still has to make it through negotiations between the House and Senate.