by Paul Bowers
Supporters of the Charleston Birth Place, a natural birthing center in North Charleston, will gather at 4:30 p.m. today at the College of Charleston's Stern Center Garden to protest a potential shutdown of the birthing center by the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control. The Charleston Birth Place's owner will speak at the event, and a lawyer hired by the company will discuss a legal plan of action. Organizers expect a crowd of hundreds to turn out.
The conflict with DHEC stems from a state regulation that says "a physician must be on call and available to provide medical assistance at the birthing center at all times that it is serving the public." For at least two decades, the Charleston Birth Place and other birthing centers around the state have interpreted the ordinance to mean that an obstetrician and pediatrician should be available via phone at all times of day.
But on Saturday, the Charleston Birth Place and other birth centers around the state received a letter from DHEC saying that they were in violation of the ordinance and had 15 calendar days to submit a plan to remedy the situation.
Lesley Rathbun, owner and operator of the Charleston Birth Place, says she has enlisted the help of attorney Laura Evans, who will file a suit in circuit court asking for a stay against the DHEC order until they can sort out the problem. In the meantime, Charleston Birth Place employees and an army of parents have taken up a massive public-relations and protest campaign. Over the weekend, nearly 2,500 people signed a Change.org petition in favor of the Birth Place. The movement has a website, a Facebook page, and a logo that people are using as their social media profile pictures in solidarity.
"Another thing we're asking people to do is to turn over their insurance card and look at number on the back and call their insurance provider and let them know that [DHEC is] taking away a cost-effective, safe option of birth for them," Rathbun says.
DHEC has been investigating natural birthing centers around the state since early September. The agency says the increased scrutiny was prompted by an Aug. 30 incident at a birthing center in Fort Mill where midwives broke state regulations on transferring a mother to a hospital and a child was born without a heartbeat.