Illinois moved closer to allowing midwifery to be a licensed profession on Tuesday under legislation signed into law by Gov. J.B. Pritzker that he and others hoped would save lives.
“Reproductive health is not one size fits all,” Pritzker said. “Whether it’s an expectant mother with a preexisting condition, or a woman looking for culturally informed care, these deeply personal needs and procedures require comprehensive options.”
Those options will now include midwives after the bill goes into effect in October.
The state doesn’t currently recognize certified professional midwives. Under state law, midwifery now requires a nursing degree. Registered nurses who’ve undergone advanced studies or completed certain clinical practice requirements can be recognized by the state as nurse-midwives.
Certified nurse-midwives provide women with primary health care, including gynecological exams, delivering babies and prenatal and postnatal care, according to the Illinois Affiliate of the American College of Nurse-Midwives.
The legislation Pritzker signed into law Tuesday allows for midwives without a nursing degree to go through a newly created licensing process and be legally recognized by the state to provide care before, during and after delivery.
The new law also creates standards for that qualification and sets education and training criteria for anyone seeking to be licensed as a certified professional in the field.
The new law requires midwives to have and maintain a valid professional midwife certification from the North American Registry of Midwives. Midwives will also be required to complete an accredited postsecondary midwifery education program.
Certified midwives who perform out-of-hospital deliveries but haven’t completed a midwifery education program can receive their license if they have at least three years of experience and have other certifications.
Pritzker and others who spoke at the bill signing expressed hope that it would help prevent pregnancy-related deaths since the state has not previously recognized certified professional midwives.
An Illinois Department of Public Health study released in April found an average of 75 Illinois women died while pregnant or within one year of pregnancy each year from 2008 to 2017, with the highest number recorded in 2017 with 103 deaths.
Black women were about three times as likely to die from a pregnancy-related condition as white women, the department reported.
Rep. Mary Flowers, D-Chicago, a sponsor of the legislation, said licensing midwives has been in the works for over two decades.
Flowers expressed hope that “we will hear about very few mothers dying.”
“This is a good first step and I’m looking forward to making health care better for all the women, but specifically African American women because we’re dying at a higher rate and it’s all preventable,” Flowers said.
Rep. Robyn Gabel, D-Evanston, said the legislation gives midwives “the recognition they deserve.”
“Home births with a certified midwife offer a safe alternative to a traditional hospital setting, and I’m glad that we are making this option official,” Gabel said. “All our hard work will ensure that expecting parents will have another safe option of bringing their babies into the world.”
Editor’s note: This article was updated to clarify that state law currently requires a nursing degree to be recognized as a nurse-midwife. The new law clears the way for midwives without nursing degrees to become certified in Illinois.