Goshen News, Goshen, IN

Local News

April 10, 2012

Protesters show support for arrested midwives in LaGrange County

LaGRANGE — If it wasn’t for all the protest signs bobbing in the air, the gathering on the courthouse lawn Monday would have looked like a family reunion.

As toddlers were fussed over and older children climbed on the large Civil War cannon in front of the courthouse, their mothers and fathers gathered in small groups to talk about what they see as the injustice of the arrest of two local midwives on felony charges.

Other protesters were more aggressive, standing at the curb waiving their protest signs as motorists passed by.

“We are here to support Indiana midwives today and their desire to have who they want with them when they birth their children,” said Jessica Halas of Warsaw.

Similar statements were given by many other women, who gathered on the courthouse lawn at 11 a.m. to directly support Ireena Keeslar, 49, Howe, who has been charged with a felony crime for allegedly practicing midwifery without a license in Indiana. Keeslar was arrested March 31 and has since been released on a $10,000 bail. She is the second midwife in the county to be arrested recently on a felony charge. Jeannie Stanley, 47, Albion, also faces the same Class D felony charge of practicing midwifery without a license.

Keeslar was supposed to have her initial hearing Monday morning, but her attorney Richard Muntz, said that hearing was waived in Superior Court and a plea of not guilty was entered for her.

LaGrange County prosecutor’s investigator John Parrish said last week both women had been licensed nurses but let their licenses lapse, making them ineligible under Indiana law to perform midwifery services. He said Indiana midwives need to be licensed nurses, as well as having completed master’s degrees in midwife training. Those midwives can then be licensed as Certified Nurse Midwifes.

Keeslar is a Certified Professional Midwife, which may legally practice midwifery in about 28 states, something she has done in Virginia and Michigan, as well as Indiana. She said Monday that both Virginia and Michigan recognize her CPM designation. In addition, as a nurse she worked at two hospitals in the past.

“So I have been at a lot of births,” she said. “It is part of who I am.”

Asked why she thinks Indiana doesn’t recognize the CPM designation, Keeslar said, “I think it goes back to the American Medical Association in the state and its resistance to get that through.”

Midwife advocates have been lobbying the General Assembly for more than three decades to change the midwife licensing law, with no success, according to Mary Ann Griffin, president of the Indiana Midwives Association.

“I think the arrest of midwives is a waste of taxpayer dollars,” Griffin said while she took a break from talking to other supporters of Keeslar at the protest. “Indiana should legislate and not litigate.”

She said the arrests of Keeslar and Stanley are the first such arrests in the state in the last eight or nine years.

Recent efforts to ease the licensing requirements have stalled in the House when bills reach the Public Health Committee, according to Griffin.

The General Assembly’s refusal to relax midwife licensing comes during a time when demand for the service is growing, according to Griffin. She said Centers for Disease Control statistics show home births have climbed 20 percent in recent years. And it is not just the nation’s Amish communities or other conservative groups providing the growth, she said.

“If you look at the data,” she said, “the increase is among college-educated, affluent women.”

Many of the women at the protest held babies who had been helped into the world by unlicensed midwives. Sprinkled about the crowd were women wearing blue T-shirts with “License my midwife” printed on the back and “Liberty for midwifes” on the front.

Several women present said they had switched to using midwives at births after having bad experiences with their first or second births in hospitals. Sarah Miller of Michigan City was one of those women.

“The hospital was not a pleasant experience for me,” she said.

Her husband David agreed.

“She would have hit the floor,” he said while pointing to his daughter. “The doctor was six feet away.”

He said fortunately he caught his daughter as she was born.

“Am I illegal,” he asked. “I caught two of them and cut their cords.”

Miller said she used a licensed midwife during her last three deliveries, but that midwife has retired, leaving a gap in such services in northwest Indiana.

She said there is a licensed midwife working for a doctor in Valparaiso, but she doesn’t deliver children at homes, according to Miller.

“I hope we can get some (legislators) to recognize we want some options for home birth,” she said.

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