Mennonite women in upstate New York are making a rare public stand to defend a midwife who has delivered hundreds of their babies. Elizabeth Catlin was arrested in November for, authorities say, practicing midwifery without a license. She's a certified professional midwife, but New York requires midwives to possess a different type of license; because of that, she says she works only as a birth attendant. Mennonites shun technology (most don't drive or have health insurance), and so largely deliver their babies at home, reports the New York Times in an extensive look at Catlin's case. What's more, most of the Mennonites in New York live in counties with few licensed midwives or obstetricians, leading to what Yahoo News refers to as "rural America's home-birth 'crisis.'" "Normally the Mennonites do not speak out—and especially the women don't," one Mennonite woman tells the Times, but that's changing in the wake of Catlin's arrest.
Concerned that if Catlin isn't allowed to continue attending births they'll be forced to give birth in a hospital, travel to a birth attendant far from home, or even deliver at home with no attendant, many Mennonites have written to local media outlets, raised money, sent care packages, and attended a January court hearing to support her. "They wouldn't do this if they didn't feel strongly," Catlin tells the Times. "They're taught to be quiet." Midwives across the nation are also speaking up, arguing that New York's rules for practicing are exclusionary (the CPM qualification is recognized by more than 30 states, but New York is not one of them). The state's rules make home births difficult to perform legally; there are just three non-hospital birthing centers in the state, and outside of the Hudson Valley and NYC, just four state-licensed midwives, the Democrat & Chronicle reports, leading to what the paper refers to as a "service desert"—and what a Mennonite elder calls a "humanitarian crisis." (All of the US is experiencing an OB-GYN shortage.)