New York City is planning on shutting down a natural birthing center in the lower east side of Manhattan that has served as a bulwark against more expensive high-intervention birthing procedures, reports Lindsay McCormack.

But the natural birthing center with its serene views of the East River and comfortable birthing beds and sofas was not available to all women who came to Bellevue to give birth. Some midwives who worked at the center said that hospital staff would discourage or fail to inform mostly low-income non-English speaking patients from giving birth at the center.

Nonetheless, midwives and natural birthing advocates are angry that New York City is shutting down the only natural birthing center that is available to low-income women.

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“It’s heartbreaking and really angering,” says Elan McAllister, founder of Choices in Childbirth, an organization that promotes low-intervention birth options in New York City. “The birth center is an incredible model that’s decreasing racial disparities in maternal care. But the people making decisions are completely uneducated about it.”

Bellevue administrators say that shrinking Medicaid reimbursements, state budget cuts and a looming $30 million budget deficit have forced them to cut costs. But midwives who worked there say that the center was undermined by the hospital’s own staff, who routinely denied patients access to the birth center.

“Women would come in for the hospital tour and they’d be absolutely thrilled to see the birth center, because it’s so beautiful in there,” says Kimm Sun, a midwife who worked at Bellevue in 2006. “It was horrible, because you knew they weren’t going to get that experience when the time came.”

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