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homebirth in australia: legal but not supported

Homebirth has been a contentious issue in Australia for a long time. A big country with vast stretches of sparsely populated area, the homebirth debate is perhaps less philosophical and more practicle than it is in more densely urban countries. And the woman and babies who face long travel times if they are forced into hospital births are caught in the middle.

The Minister of Health recently required professional midwives to carry indemnity insurance. They are being required to pay a minimum of $5000 for hospital services. Indemnity insurance for homebirth services is not available at this time. The Health Minister released a statement praising the new insurance requirements and detailing the benefits for mothers and babies.

Homebirth is still an option a woman may legally choose for herself and her baby. However there is the concern that midwives will be forced to pass on the cost of the new insurance to home and hospital birthers alike. Despite loft ideals, for many women place of birth is choice often defined at least in part by cost considerations.

Even women who have read the research on homebirth option and determined that it is a safe choice for their situation (as it is for most mother/baby dyads) must balance that knowledge with their financial particulars.

Additionally it is being reported that some homebirth mothers are being denied medical care when they do seek a physicians consult.


  1. Nice to see something on this.

    A few things: the government is seeking to regulate women's access to homebirth in such a way that basically means no woman can freely choose homebirth but must jump through as yet unknown hoops involving obstetricians. The South Australian "guidelines" I took apart on my blog are clearly anti-woman and promote the personhood of the foetus. This is unacceptable. They form the most likely template for the forthcoming legislation.

    Very few women will thus be able to choose homebirth because very few of us will be deemed "low risk" enough and we won't have the ultimate say in our own birthplace. Very few midwives will be able to become what's called "eligible" ie meaning allowed to apply to offer PBS and Medicare to clients and/or attend homebirths.

    We have had bullshit ridiculously called "collaboration" but really meaning "total obstetric control" foisted upon us. We might (unlikely but might) have some kind of right of refusal in these laws but you can't refuse something you're not being offered. If a surgeon says "No homebirth for you, missy!" what are your options? If a surgeon says "No eligibility for you! to a midwife, what can she do? To choose homebirth with this midwife opens the woman and the midwife up to substantial fines.

    No midwife who's actually with woman will be allowed to be "eligible" anyway and layering more bureaucracy and control around birth is not only ugly but insulting and unnecessary.

    Until now when a woman wanted a homebirth she contacted a midwife and they organised it. If a doctor was needed, the midwife called on a doctor or two previously shown to be supportive, or accompanied her client to the local public hospital. Those doctors are now refusing to support women and midwives with whom they've previously forged good working relationships.

    The whole drive is simply aimed at ridding Australia of consumer-driven midwife-attended homebirth and giving the 1% of births which happen at home over to surgeons via hospitals. It's outrageous and a breach of human rights. The government has totally hogtied the media who are all only too happy to print crap anyway and nothing that advocates for women say makes it into the papers or onto the tv.

    We held a 4000 strong demonstration in Canberra outside Parliament House and it didn't get reported in the national media. It was the biggest ever gathering in support of birthing women, completely ignored. Advocates have been marginalised, abused, or at best ignored and women's human rights have been trashed.

    We are sad but not defeated. And we will not "collaborate" because no one but each woman has the right to decide where, how and with whom she births. No government has the moral right to legislate away our right to autonomy and bodily integrity.

  2. Thanks so much for your comment Janet. I'm thankful for the light you were able to shed on the issue.

    I absolutely agree that this is likely to lead to even fewer homebirths and that the risk eligibilty criteria are likely extensive enough to disallow many many women.

    I also agree that its bullshit.

    The thing that's so awful is that in a truly collaborative system the 80-90% of women who don't need obstetric interventions would birth either at home or attended by midwives in out of hospital birth centers. The few who really need obstetric management (or those who might choose that for themselves and their babies) *at any point during pregnancy, labor or delivery* would be able to access it w/o a politically driven hassle.

    I think the rx refusal makes me the most furious. How dare they put women and babies at risk like that with their games!!!