Elizabeth Catlin and her attorney David Morabito continue her defense against felony charges levied last fall in connection to assisting area women in childbirth. While Catlin’s story continues to resonate in national media, women in the local Mennonite community have been working with Yates County Public Health officials and four licensed midwives who have begun providing care to women and are working to find a location in the county for a birthing center.
Yates County Public Health Director Deb Minor says the midwives will provide services for in-home births, which are often preferred by many Mennonite women. She says they are also working on strategies to ensure that a sudden lack of midwife providers does not happen again. “They (the midwives) are really committed to making sure this doesn’t happen again. They are aware of what the Mennonite community wants,” says Minor, adding that it’s important that the providers have a work schedule that allows them to have time for their own lives and families.
Of the 319 babies born in Yates County during 2017, 151 were born to Mennonite families, according to Minor. It’s safe to say a majority of those babies were born in the family homes. At that time, most home births in Yates County were attended by midwife Joyce Wade, or by Catlin.
Last year, Wade became seriously ill, and had to stop work after assisting with home births for 20 years. She died Feb. 11.
When Catlin was first arrested, expectant mothers were left searching for help, and defending their preference for in home birthing. The case spurred broad debate about childbirth practices in the area, with many women speaking out publicly about their preferences for in home births.
Now, with the efforts of several women in the Mennonite community and Public Health, things are moving closer to a positive situation, says Minor, who has been keeping state Department of Health officials informed of progress.
State legislation passed in 2016 allows midwives to have a birth center if women chose to not have their baby at home but don’t want to go to a hospital. However, the regulations have not been approved yet, and are under review for public comment, says Minor.
As progress is made, it’s likely midwives around New York State will have an eye on Yates County. “They are beginning to understand the needs of the rural communities,” says Minor.
The midwives will be meeting with women at a community event soon, says Minor. Anyone who does not get information through other means should contact Yates County Public Health at 315-536-5160.
Catlins’ attorney, David Morabito, says he is optimistic about the outcome of the cases against her in Yates and Ontario Counties. “I’m optimistic because I’m representing a lovely human being,” he says.
He is in negotiations with Assistant Yates County District Attorney Michael Tantillo about the next steps in the case as both sides continue their independent investigations.
“My obligation is to zealously protect Elizabeth Catlin’s statutory and constitutional rights,” he says. An experienced Rochester area criminal lawyer whose eyes have been opened to rural issues by this case, he says, “I’m shockingly impressed with the support Liz Catlin is getting from the community.”
“This case has really opened my eyes to issues I wasn’t aware of. We need more hospitals. We need more doctors. We need more midwives. We need more birth attendants,” he says.
Catlin was arrested Nov. 14, 2018 by New York State Police who charged her with the NYS Department of Education felony of Unauthorized Practice of Profession. That case is in Ontario County Court. The arrest was related to Catlin transporting a Yates County mother in labor to FF Thompson Hospital in Canandaigua last fall. The baby was delivered in Canandaigua, but died while being transferred to Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester.
FF Thompson officials deny making a complaint about Catlin, a claim supported by a Freedom of Information search of State Education Department Professional Licensing Department records.
Catlin was arrested again Dec. 21 and charged with four additional felonies in Yates County.