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Friday, August 19, 2011

Letter to accompany LA Times’ article re Katie McCall’s conviction

By Carol Downer

I stumbled upon Katie McCall’s trial by accident. I was in the County Courthouse when Rebecca Pridiletto passed me in the hall and she told me about it. The trial was almost over, and I wasn’t able to hear the proceedings, so I wasn’t able to find out the bare facts until I read the L.A. Times’ article. There were about 20 women, mostly friends, family and fellow church members in attendance. When I asked where I could obtain more information about the trial, I was told that the Judge had forbidden any publicity, making Katie take down her website and had forbidden those in attendance from discussing what they observed in the courtroom with each other or anyone else.

I do not practice criminal law, so I had to do some quick legal research into “gag orders” and found that in California, they are disfavored and only issued when there are strong reasons why publicity would be harmful to the defendant getting a fair trial. There has to be notice, and the parties have a chance to oppose any motion for such a gag order. I do not know what happened in this case.

The L.A. Times’ article states that both mother and baby are fine and that Katie McCall is now licensed as a midwife, therefore I fail to see the purpose behind this prosecution. In fact, since the shoulder getting “stuck” during birth constitutes one of the rare situations where expert assistance or technology are vital, it seems possible that McCall may have performed a tremendous service.

In my opinion, understanding these prosecutions can only be approached from a political perspective. The male-dominated medical profession has waged a relentless battle against midwives, ever since doctors have served the general public, not just wives of royalty and the wealthy elite, and presently midwives in the United States delivery only a small percentage of babies.

Has this takeover benefitted women? Generally, I think not. Depending on local economic and cultural conditions, midwives have either been experienced women who shared a common lore regarding childbirth practices and provided birthing women with a high quality of services, or they sometimes were simply older women who supplemented their incomes by bringing their help and experience to birthing women, and their expertise was questionable. When doctors took over, sometimes the care women received was improved, but many, many times, it was not, and sometimes it was disastrous. Today, we see childbirth turned into a medicalized event, replete with drugs, surgery and isolation from loved ones and community.

Unfortunately, there really is no organized, political effort to promote midwifery, doulas and to educate the public about the dangers of current obstetrical practices. Midwifery is an old and honorable profession; not a social or political movement. In contrast, the medical profession is extremely well organized with it “code of silence”, and its paid lobbyists. They have used mystification of the birth process and parents’ fear of pain and death to convince the public that birth is a medical event and should only take place in a hospital, and they have used their money and political influence to get laws passed in every state to maintain their stranglehold on the “business” of childbirth.

As I find out more about this case, I will keep you posted.

LA Times article hyperlink -