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Redefining Birth: The Legal History of Midwifery in Colorado and Forging a Path Toward Perinatal Care that Prioritizes Health and Wellness for All


A century ago, medicine, in collaboration with the law, redefined birth as a medical event. This Article illustrates the resulting consequences of medicine’s coopting of birth for its own benefit, and explains what opportunities exist to correct these consequences. Although this Article uses the history of childbirth in Colorado to illustrate this issue, the Colorado experience is generally reflective of the rest of the United States. To counteract the negative effects of the medicalization of childbirth, certain core principles must be instilled in legislation aimed to protect the interests of birthing people: midwifery should be independent from medical care and pregnant people must retain the authority to make decisions about their own care. Too often, laws are overly restrictive on midwives as a result of the way medicine and the law define risk, compromising midwifery’s effectiveness, despite evidence of the midwifery model’s benefits. This Article discusses how current legislation is designed, with intersectionality in mind, to reframe the misogyny baked into the current sociopolitical landscape of health care, and the aspects of those pieces of legislation that would be beneficial to retain moving forward. Finally, this Article advocates for structural change that addresses the long-lasting and still-existing effects of racism in the medical and legal fields to create an equitable system of care for all birthing people.