Several generations back, Alabama virtually eliminated out-of-hospital midwifery by regulating out of business the Grand Midwives–Black women and descendants of slaves trained traditionally, by apprenticeship–who shepherded generations of slave, free, Black, and white babies into the world with their hands without medical equipment or medical backup. As organized medicine did its best to systematically stomp out midwifery all over the country, these midwives were criminalized and birth moved to hospitals that at first refused to treat Black families, and later, continued to abuse and harm them because of racist policies and attitudes.
Families and midwives in Alabama have been attempting to “free the midwives” via the law for almost 15 years, begging for better options in a state with some of the worst health outcomes in the country, disappearing rural care, and disturbing reports of human rights abuses in maternity care facilities.
Every time, organized medicine has crushed their efforts, clinging to its monopoly on maternity care services. This usually looks like an elected white man expressing “concern” for the “safety” of Alabama women and babies, on behalf of medical organizations with deep pockets. The attached document disseminated this year by the anti-birth-choice lobby includes statements from multiple physician and medical organizations, like the Alabama Academy of Family Physicians, Alabama Hospital Association, and the Medical Association of the State of Alabama.
One of the hospitals that issued a “Call to Action” to doctors and nurses to act against the bill was Birmingham’s Brookwood Medical Center, which was at the losing end of a $16 million, 2016 verdict that highlighted the abusive treatment women endure in even the most posh hospitals.
This year, on the very last day of the session as families were looking at another likely defeat by the medical lobby, Senator Vivian Davis Figures stepped up to the microphone to say everything that needed to be said. Here is the video, and below that, a transcript of what she said. It’s amazing. She quotes The Color Purple, y’all.
The bill passed.
Yes, I have a couple of questions for you, Senator Blackwell. What I’d like to know is, Who are you working for? Who has you in here at this mike, trying to kill this bill? Let’s just get to the bottom line. This is a bill about a woman’s choice. Women have babies every day. In fact, back in the day, your ancestors. Did your ancestors own slaves?
Well, I’m not…
If they did, if they did, let’s go there.
I’m part Native American…
Who do you think birthed your ancestors. Uneducated slaves, ok? They were midwives. They were midwives. I am staying germaine, Mr. President, I’m talking about midwives and education. You can’t get any more germaine than that. Since you say that you’re concerned, Senator. It is a woman’s choice as to where she wants to have her baby, after you men impregnate us. It is our choice. We give birth to all of you, the males and the females. I’m just, I’m just cutting to the chase. Because I’m tired of this. Every time it comes up a bill about a woman making a choice about how she wants to do something with her body, then you all get all concerned and want to be so doggone controlling about it. People can choose where and how they want to have their children.
I agree with you.
Now I chose to have my children at the hospital because I wanted as many drugs as they could give me, with my epidural, because I didn’t want to feel any pain. But there are people who don’t want to do that. There are people who don’t want to be in a hospital. And it’s their choice. And I keep asking for the statistics about where there are so many babies that are being killed, or mothers being killed, from having babies from a midwife. They’re already trained. They have their training. But it’s nothing we’re going to be able to say to you that’s going to satisfy you, because you don’t wish to be satisfied with that, Senator. You’re trying to kill this bill. That’s what you’re trying to do. You soiree in here at the right time, when you want to kill something. So, you know, I’ve just had it up to here. This is the 30th day, this bill has been around here. They’ve answered every question; all of the concerns have been worked out. All of them have been worked out. Even the amendment that Senator Or put on, with the regulation board going into place. That is going to take every consideration, every concern into consideration.
But yet, you want to kill this bill.
Not … you’re the one who does not want to talk and try to figure out a solution.
You’re not trying to find a solution. You’re just trying to kill this bill because everything has already been made. So Senator have at it; do what you want to do; but let me tell you. Just like Ms. Celie from The Color Purple told Mister: Until you do right, nothing good is going to come to you.