Mo. Supreme Court upholds 2007 midwifery law

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — The state Supreme Court has reinstated a law letting certified midwives work in Missouri without fear of potential criminal charges.

The 2007 measure legalizing the trained but unlicensed practice of midwifery had been struck down by a Cole County judge. She ruled it violated the state constitution, because the midwives provision was unrelated to the bill’s titled subject of health insurance.

But the Supreme Court overturned that in a 5-2 decision Tuesday.

The court’s majority said the Missouri State Medical Association and three other medical groups had no legal standing to sue in the first place.

The doctors groups claimed that allowing unlicensed midwives to practice medicine could put physicians who cooperate with them at risk of professional discipline. They cited existing state laws allowing the Board of Registration for the Healing Arts to discipline doctors who aid others in the unlicensed practice of medicine.

But the Supreme Court said that argument overlooks the fact that the 2007 law exempted certain privately certified midwives from the prohibition on practicing medicine, and thus freed physicians from potential discipline for aiding or encouraging them.

"This court holds, therefore, that plaintiffs cannot predicate standing (to sue) on the perceived risk that their physician members will be subject to discipline," Judge Stephen Limbaugh Jr. wrote for the majority.

In dissent, Judge William Ray Price Jr. said the physicians groups did have the legal standing to sue. He based that on their claim that the use of midwives would result in an increased need for emergency health care and thus affect both the physicians’ medical practice and the health of their patients.

Price said he would have upheld the lower court ruling striking down the law.

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