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Federal lawsuit challenges Nebraska's midwife home birth ban

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Tom Joyce

(The Center Square) - A certified nurse midwife filed a federal lawsuit against the state of Nebraska this week for preventing her from attending home births or operating without a physician's permission.

Certified nurse midwife (CNM) Heather Swanson is a nurse practitioner. She also serves as the Nebraska affiliate president of the American College of Nurse-Midwives, according to a press release from the Pacific Legal Foundation.

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Swanson wants to provide childbirth services and thinks mothers should have a choice in where and how they give birth.

Swanson has practiced midwifery for over 20 years in Texas and South Dakota. She served as the director of a birth center and currently teaches in a nurse practitioner program.

"Without the obstacles put in her way by the state, she would provide her expert midwifery services at home births in Nebraska as well," the release said.

All 50 states allow home birth. However, only Nebraska has an outright ban on CNMs from home births. The state makes failure to comply with the law a felony.

Yet, lay midwives and doulas, professionals that have no state regulation, don't face this same restriction.

“Certified nurse midwives, who have extensive childbirth education and training, are uniquely excluded from attending home births, while mothers can deliver their babies with the assistance of unlicensed doulas and lay-midwives without nursing degrees, or even no one at all,” Josh Polk, an attorney at Pacific Legal Foundation, said. “Nebraska’s CNM ban for home births and the physician supervision requirement violate the right of CNMs to provide critical childbirth care and the right of Nebraska’s mothers to receive that care.”

The Pacific Legal Foundation is representing Swanson for free as she pursues a federal challenge of Nebraska’s law.

"A win would alleviate the burden on the state’s childbirth system, allow CNMs to provide midwifery free of arbitrary restriction, and add a safe new layer of choice for expecting Nebraska mothers," the release said.

The name of the case is Swanson v. Hilgers. It was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Nebraska.