We turned out in our thousands in the rain last September at the Parliament House protest. We broke the record for submissions to the National Maternity Services Review in October 2008. We embarassed Julia Gillard in north Queensland on Tuesday, asking her what she’s going to do about women being unable to legally access a registered private midwife because of the Government’s new collaboration requirements. And today was Canberra’s turn, with a protest in the wind and rain outside the National Press Club while Julia Gillard was inside with the heater on.
Approximately twenty five women, and a dozen or more babies and small children, made sure their banners were in full view of the arriving media: “We Support Midwives – We Are Not Going Away”, “Medicare for Women and Miwives – With No Medical Veto!”, and “Let’s Move Forward – With PRACTICAL Birth Choices”. Sandwiched between a protest about the home insulation fiasco, and a youth Climate Change action group, the women took up a chant of “My Body, My Birth, My Right” as the cars arrived.
What are these women complaining about? The Government’s new Medicare for midwives legislation means that women can only access a registered homebirth midwife if a private obstetrician agrees to the birth plan. The AMA and MIGA (the medical indemnity insurer for both midwives and private obstetricians) are actively discouraging collaboration, and there is nothing to be gained by doctors if they choose to collaborate. So of course, it is virtually impossible to find a private obstetrician who will agree to a home birth plan with a registered midwife in attendance. This means that women who want to birth at home will have to do so without any registered health professional in attendance, or find a midwife who is willing to risk criminal charges by working without registration.
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It all comes down to money. The AMA and MIGA do very well out of the funds received from private obstetricians, whose fees are heavily subsidised by the Medicare Safety Net scheme. Each private obstetric birth is estimated to cost the Australian taxpayer between $5,000 and $20,000, although the woman might pay only a small portion of that amount. A private midwifery home birth costs under $5,000, and until now has been paid 100% by the woman (no Medicare subsidy). Even with Medicare subsidy, a private midwifery birth will cost much less than an obstetric birth. And for women having a normal, healthy pregnancy and birth, it is a valid choice.
And therein lies the problem. By giving private doctors (not public hospitals, only private doctors are able to participate in the collaboration arrangements) the right to veto a private midwifery home birth plan, the Government has set a dangerous precedent for women’s rights in Australia. It is now legal for a doctor to decide what a woman can do with her own vagina, even if the woman disagrees. Where might this lead in future? Just think about that for a minute. Women who have been given full and accurate information about all their options will not be allowed to pay for a private service that their doctor does not offer.
So… how many protests will it take before Julia Gillard and Nicola Roxon realise that they are removing women’s rights?