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Columbia Missourian

Midwifery maneuver costs senator’s chairmanship

By DAVID A. LIEB The Associated Press
May 15, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CDT

The House and Senate unknowingly approved a bill legalizing midwifery.

JEFFERSON CITY — A state senator got stripped of his committee chairmanship Monday after sneaking contentious language legalizing lay midwifery into a health insurance bill passed by the House and Senate.

Sen. John Loudon, R-Chesterfield, made no apologies for his shrewd move, even as other lawmakers decried him for violating one of the most important unwritten rules of lawmaking — trust.

Loudon was the Senate handler of one of Gov. Matt Blunt’s priority bills intended to expand private health insurance to some of Missouri’s 700,000 uninsured, particularly those employed by small businesses.

On Thursday, Loudon outlined a new, 123-page version of the bill — purportedly one agreed to by key House and Senate members, the governor’s office and trade groups for small businesses and insurers.

But while explaining the bill, Loudon never mentioned that it also included an obscure sentence allowing certified midwives to help with home births. Under current Missouri law, midwifery is considered the illegal practice of medicine when done by anyone other than a physician or certain specially trained nurses.

The Senate passed the bill 31-0, its last act before heading home for a three-day weekend.

On Friday, the House passed the bill 106-41, sending it to Blunt. It was only after the final vote that Democratic Rep. Sam Page, a Creve Coeur doctor, noticed the midwifery language and brought it to colleagues’ attention. By then, it was too late to debate.

The bill’s lead sponsor, Rep. Doug Ervin, R-Kearney, said Monday that Loudon had deceived him. The midwife language was not part of the agreed-upon package, Ervin said, and he never would have brought the bill to a final vote had he realized what was in it.

Senate Majority Leader Charlie Shields, R-St. Joseph, who decides what bills get debated, also said he never would have brought up the health insurance bill had he realized the midwife language was included.

Senate President Pro Tem Michael Gibbons, R-Kirkwood, on Monday removed Loudon as chairman of the Senate Small Business, Insurance and Industrial Relations Committee until further notice.

Loudon said loss of his leadership position was worth it.

“There’s really not much I wouldn’t do to make sure people get this critical freedom” to decide how and where to give birth to their children, he said.

Whereas Loudon thinks midwives and home births can actually increase safety, opponents argue they can put lives at risk.

“When you present yourself as someone who can deliver a baby at home, and the people receiving those services don’t know enough to investigate your qualifications and skills, then someone’s going to get hurt,” Page said.

Another opponent, Sen. Chuck Graham, D-Columbia, had blocked a separate Loudon bill legalizing lay midwifery from coming to a final vote in the Senate.

Gibbons said legislative leaders are looking for ways to reverse Loudon’s language — likely through passage of another bill. But the legislative session ends Friday.