Kentucky House approves freestanding birth centers bill

Published 4:30 pm Wednesday, March 27, 2024

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By Sarah Ladd

Kentucky Lantern

Freestanding birth centers could open in Kentucky under narrow guidelines if a bipartisan bill passed by Kentucky’s House Tuesday becomes law.

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Time is running short in this session — Tuesday was the 56th day of the 60-day legislative session — and the bill still needs to head to the Senate for committee and floor consideration.

House Bill 199 would, among other things, remove the certificate of need requirement for freestanding birth centers as long as they have no more than four beds, have transfer agreements with hospitals, are located within 30 miles of a hospital and more. 

Representatives who spoke against the bill voiced concerns about the safety of giving birth in a freestanding center, which are home-like facilities for low-risk births. Supporters have said the centers are safer than home births, which some Kentuckians wishing for a low-intervention birth may choose instead of a hospital.

Kentucky recorded 177 home births in 1988 and 900 in 2021, the Lantern has reported.

Some Kentuckians also travel out of state to birth centers rather than go to a hospital in the state. In 2022, 110 Kentuckians traveled to Tree of Life, a freestanding birthing center in Jeffersonville, Indiana, the Lantern previously reported. That is an increase from 107 in 2021 and 71 in 2020. And, the Clarksville Midwifery practice in Tennessee delivers about 25-30 Kentucky babies every year.

Rep. Lisa Willner, D-Louisville, a cosponsor of the bill, said it “would allow us to take care of our own … right here in Kentucky.”

“Regardless of where a parent chooses to give birth, we can all agree that safety for both mother and infant is the most important thing,” she said.

Rep. Kim King, R-Harrodsburg, said births should be attended by “highly trained OBGYNs” who “are able to get the baby out in an emergency situation.” She voted against the bill.

Nemes said the centers are run by “highly trained professionals that know what they’re doing.” They’re not, he said, run by “Jason Nemes and friends.”

“This is,” he said, “another safe alternative for a mother having a baby in a hospital or at home.”