Families and stakeholders met Tuesday in Albany for a "day of action" to push for expanded access to maternal health care, specifically midwifery.

While New York state currently licenses two types of primarily hospital based midwives, certified professional midwives, who specialize in home care outside of a hospital setting, are not allowed to practice in New York state.

Advocates say the benefits of changing the law are twofold. New York is currently experiencing a maternal health care crisis and doing so will provide more opportunities for care, while also providing options for mothers who don’t want to give birth at a hospital.

Melissa Carman is a Certified Professional Midwife. She said CPMs could be providing care for an increasing number of mothers who would prefer to give birth outside of a hospital due to personal preference, cultural or religious reasons, or those who have been impacted by the closure of many of the maternal health centers in rural hospitals across the state.

“We would have the ability to serve communities, families,” she said.

As it stands, the practice, which has its own accreditation requirements, is illegal.

“If you are practicing in the state of New York, that is a felony, arrest and conviction, for practicing in the state of New York without a license,” she said. “We want to add CPMs to the list of providers that can become licensed.”

Advocates say racial disparities in health care put lBack and brown mothers at an even greater risk for maternal and infant mortality — making them more reluctant to give birth at a hospital.

“Black mothers dying in this state has always been a crisis and it is getting worse,” said SeQuoia Kemp, co-founder of Sankofa Reproductive Health & Healing Center in Syracuse.

It’s a bill that has drawn bipartisan support, including from Republican state Sen. Jake Ashby.

“It has bipartisan support because of the staffing shortage, but also because even if there wasn’t a staffing shortage this just makes sense,” he said.

Assemblymember Amy Paulin co-sponsors the bill. She says the period in which CPMs from other states were allowed to practice during the pandemic proved that the practice can work.

During the pandemic,  Andrew then Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued an executive order allowing CPMs with a license in other states to practice in New York.

“It’s you who help us get to a better birthing outcome for women in this state, so this bill is critically important,” she said.

Critically important, Carman says because 20 New York counties are currently labeled as “maternity health care deserts.”

“There’s women who don’t have anywhere to go, there’s no services available,” she said. “They travel two and a half to three hours just to get prenatal care, so by licensing CPM’s we open the door for a whole host of people being served.

They say as New York state works to implement licensing for birth centers, the need for out of hospital midwives will only increase.