Women's rights activists draw attention to Iowa birthing processes


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Some birthing processes are illegal in Iowa, and local birth activists are trying to change that.

The documentary Freedom of Birth was screened in the Alder Journalism Building on Thursday evening and in more than 1,000 other locations around the world. The film introduced the audience to a midwife arrested and imprisoned in Hungary for assisting women with home births, which was outlawed.

“[The purpose] is to raise awareness about the issues around childbirth,” said Kristin Bergman, a doula and the event organizer. “Particularly with students, lawyers, and care providers who perhaps don’t realize the current statistics in the United States.”

Unlike Hungary, home births are not illegal in Iowa with the assistance of a certified nurse-midwife. However, certified professional midwives cannot legally assist with a home birth in Iowa.

“Every year, midwives and families lobby to try to get that changed,” said Katie Sullenbrand, a certified nurse-midwife. “I think Iowa is a pretty conservative state, things are slow to change, and at this point, it’s kind of like any other bill that never becomes a law.” 

Experts said the discussion of allowing women the option to choose how and where they choose to give birth has been a hot-button issue worldwide.

“I think it’s important to give people more information about the role of midwives historically and around the world, in the birth process, “ said Laurie Hagg, the program developer at the Women’s Resource and Action Center. “It’s a global issue. What’s important is that women understand that this has been going on for centuries.”

Certified nurse-midwives are trained in nursing abd midwifery and typically practice in and receive training for hospital settings. Certified professional midwives are trained in midwifery and specialize in out-of-hospital birth.

In some cases, the state a woman lives in determines how she can give birth. Choices are often limited, with the growing number of women wanting to have out-of-hospital-care in Iowa.

UI junior Allison French thinks the birthing process should be the woman’s decision.

“I just think it’s important for women to know what options they have when it comes to having a child,” French said.  “It’s her choice because it’s her body.”

Sullenbrand sees a woman’s decision on her birth as an individual right.

“I think [women deciding how they want to give birth] is one of the more, hopefully, basic freedoms that people can have is to make decisions about their families,” she said.

Bergman notices it is after a woman experiences her first birth that she starts to question the birthing process.

“I find that my clients who have all given birth already, there is a tremendous amount of trauma that the average American woman is looking for places to heal,” Bergman said. “I feel it’s something people tend to discover after their first child. Most mothers, if they are going to be proactive in birth-care reform, don’t do so until after their first child.”

Activists want people to know they have a choice in the way they decide to give birth and out-of-hospitals births are safe options.

“It’s really important that we start talking about these human-rights issues,” said Mandi Hillman, a doula. “It’s affecting people all over the globe. The fact that this is even a human-rights issue surprises people.  The more people know, the more likely they are to make different decisions.”

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