North Shore Birth Center in Beverly, MA has been in the news recently, as its parent company, Northeast Health System, had planned to close the center and transfer all births to the Beverly Hospital. The center is staffed by nurse-midwives and is intended to offer a more “home-like” and less interventionist approach to birth – it is described in the Boston Globe as “one of only two hospital-affiliated centers statewide that offer natural birth options.”
In their initial statement on the issue, hospital officials explained that, “As with other birth centers around the nation, North Shore Birth Center is experiencing a significant rise in the cost of malpractice insurance premiums.” News of the expected closure sparked pickets, fliers and letters of protest, as well as a Facebook group and blog.
OBOS Executive Director Judy Norsigian issued a letter to the trustees along with Cindy Pearson of the National Women’s Health Network, Ann Sweeney of Massachusetts Friends of Midwives, and Eugene Declercq, Professor of Maternal and Child Health at the Boston University School of Public Health supporting the continued operation of the center. The letter urged the trustees to postpone any decision to close the center in favor of “open[ing] a dialog with community members and women’s health advocates who are deeply concerned about the critical importance of this reproductive choice.”
Yesterday, according to the Boston Globe, supporters of the center rallied outside Beverly Hospital during the anticipated meeting of the Board of Trustees, which responded with a statement indicating that the objections to closure had been noticed and that the Board “is diligently weighing the impact that the closure of the Birth Center would have on the community. The board intends to leave the Birth Center services unchanged while it continues to examine and discuss this important issue.”
Although this may eventually represent a victory for choices in maternal care and birth in one part of Massachusetts, the situation at North Shore reflects an overall climate of reducing choices for women nationwide. As the Globe notes, “The controversy comes amid a larger debate in the medical and legal communities about maternity care and high medical malpractice insurance premiums paid by hospitals and doctors. Concern about malpractice lawsuits has prompted physicians nationwide to become hyper-cautious, and that has driven up the numbers nationwide of more controlled, caesarean section births.”