Court upholds midwife's conviction in stillbirth Glenarm woman got suspended sentence

June 02, 1996|By Mike Farabaugh | Mike Farabaugh,SUN STAFF

The Court of Special Appeals has upheld the 1995 conviction of a Glenarm midwife who attended the stillbirth of a Sykesville couple's son in December 1994.

The appeal stemmed from a Carroll County Circuit Court case against Karen Hunter, 35, who received a suspended six-month sentence for practicing nursing without a license and was ordered to stop practicing midwifery unless she becomes a certified midwife.

Hunter said last year that she had been a lay midwife for eight years and had delivered about 145 babies before attending the birth of Cynthia and Johnny Morgan's 13-pound son, Jonathan Caleb Morgan.

An autopsy by the state medical examiner's office found that the baby died in utero from an infection about 24 to 48 hours before the full-term birth.

Hunter was arrested Jan. 20, 1995, on charges of reckless endangerment, practicing nursing without a license and misrepresenting herself as a nurse.

Carroll County prosecutors dropped the last charge after the Morgans said they knew Hunter was not a registered nurse.

Hunter was found guilty in July of practicing nursing without a license. In exchange for her agreement to a statement of facts that could convict her, the state's attorney's office agreed to drop the more serious charge of reckless endangerment.

In a written opinion filed Wednesday, Alan M. Wilner, chief judge of the Court of Special Appeals, addressed state regulation of midwifery, the privacy rights of women to choose who assists in delivering their babies and whether statements made by Hunter before she was advised of her rights against self-incrimination should have been suppressed.

The appellate court said it researched the history of state laws governing midwives before concluding that legislators intended that "the only individuals currently governed or eligible to become licensed as midwives are the registered nurses who have additional training in midwifery."

The appellate court also ruled that requiring midwives to be registered nurses does not infringe on a woman's right to have a midwife assist in childbirth.

The court also held that Hunter's statements to investigators who questioned her were not statements, but "blurtings," made voluntarily and not in response to interrogation.

Shannon Avery, a Baltimore public defender who represented Hunter at the appellate level, said Friday that lawyers in her office would vote this week on whether to appeal last week's ruling.

Hunter could not be reached for comment.

Sally Cromwell, who represented Hunter in Carroll County Circuit Court, said Friday that she was disappointed by the appellate court's decision.

"It's too bad, because it eliminates choices for Maryland women," she said.

Sandra Loats, a director of Maryland Friends of Midwives, a Westminster group advocating legislative changes in state midwifery laws, said no bills to change those laws are pending in Annapolis.

"We have a committee studying the matter, and we are active in mustering support, talking to legislators," Loats said. "Karen Hunter's competency was never in question. The issue was always about being a nurse."

Loats called nursing a "wonderful profession, requiring lots of skills" but said most of those skills are not necessary to be a good midwife.

Donna Dorsey, executive director of the Maryland Board of Nursing, which oversees nurse midwives, was not available for comment.

When Hunter was charged, Dorsey told The Sun that the state's ban on lay midwifery was well-founded.

"The board's position is that these people need a certain level of formal education, and in midwifery, apprenticeships or preceptorships are inadequate," she said. "We want healthy babies and healthy mothers, and not [to] put anybody at a greater risk than they have to be."

Pub Date: 6/02/96

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