Wednesday, May 17, 2023
Elizabeth Kukura, Rethinking the Infrastructure of Childbirth, 91 UMKC L. Rev. 497 (2023)
This Article applies the concept of infrastructure to analyze gaps in the maternity care system that shape where and how people give birth in the United States. It argues that we must understand how structural factors, including law and regulation, shape modern childbirth in order to advance perinatal health equity and improve health outcomes.
Specifically, the Article unpacks the concept of maternity care deserts as an infrastructure problem in three distinct but related ways. First, it describes the OB/GYN workforce shortage, including how the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization is likely to compound this shortage in certain areas of the country.
Next, the Article describes the limited access to midwifery care in the United States and the current regulatory barriers to increasing the midwifery workforce and making midwifery care more available. It argues that greater midwife involvement in United States perinatal care will be essential in order to address the deepening gaps in access to care, and that the medical profession should abandon its opposition to liberalized midwifery licensure and regulation in favor of both midwifery promotion and greater interprofessional collaboration to meet the needs of pregnant people. Experimentation during the COVID-19 crisis with relaxed interstate licensure rules and interprofessional collaboration among physicians, midwives, nurses, and doulas to ensure safe childbirth provide examples for reimagining the relationships among birth professionals in ways that promote positive health outcomes.
Finally, the Article addresses existing barriers to community birth—meaning birth at home and in freestanding birth centers—and how lack of access to community birth, which is typically attended by midwives, both contributes to maternity care deserts and forces some people to birth in hospitals where their needs are not adequately met. Drawing on experiences during the pandemic, when record numbers of pregnant people sought community birth options in order to avoid delivering in hospitals overwhelmed by COVID-19, the Article argues that investing in more freestanding birth centers and reducing barriers to home birth are sensible, necessary strategies for closing gaps in access to maternity care and ensuring that pregnant people who do not feel safe or cannot have their needs addressed in hospitals have options for delivering in a community setting.