About 100 supporters turned out for Elizabeth Catlin's hearing this week in Penn Yan — and other birth attendants are watching the case closely
PENN YAN — About 100 supporters filled the lobby of the Penn Yan Village Hall on Monday, Jan. 7, when Elizabeth Catlin — who has been under a court order to cease assisting women with home birthing — was scheduled to appear for a hearing in village court on four felony charges.
Catlin pleaded not guilty on all four counts, and waived grand jury and speedy trial measures. She will reappear at 5 p.m. Feb. 12, when her attorney will begin negotiations for how the case will be handled going forward. The case could last between six months and a year. Yates County District Attorney Todd Casella has six months to present the case to a grand jury.
In the meantime, efforts are underway in the Mennonite community and within the Yates County Public Health Department to find someone who can provide maternity care for women with limited transportation and who want to have their babies in their rural homes. And other birth attendants in the state who are certified professional midwives (CPM), but not New York state-licensed, are working from the shadows, closely watching the developments in Yates County.
“It’s pretty remarkable to have this kind of support,” said Catlin’s attorney, David Morabito of East Rochester, scanning the crowd that gathered around him and Catlin. He explained that on Feb. 12 there will be room in the small village courtroom for her supporters. “The judge wants everyone to be able to be in the courtroom,” Morabito said. Typically, during Monday night court dates, Village Judge Matthew Conlon presides over several cases and the gallery seats quickly fill up.
The Catlin case has drawn attention from regional and national media, including The New York Times, because of its impact on local maternity care at a time when there is already a shortage of professionals, and especially midwives who will support women delivering babies in homes.
Catlin, 53, who also faces a felony charge of unauthorized practice of a profession in Ontario County, has been charged in Penn Yan with:
1. Second-degree identity theft (Class E felony): New York State Police say Catlin presented herself on Nov. 26, 2018 as being professionally associated with PreEmption Road Family Medicine in paperwork sent to a laboratory in Rochester, with the intent to defraud the lab, PreEmption Road Family Medicine, and pregnant clients.
2. First-degree unauthorized practice of profession (Class E felony): State Police allege that on Nov. 26, she operated an unlawful midwifery practice referred to as the “Prenatal Place,” at a residence on the Bath Road in the town of Milo.
3. Second-degree possession of a forged instrument (Class D felony): The complaint says Catlin possessed a falsely completed lab requisition form with the intent to defraud.
4. First-degree falsifying business records (Class E felony).
Catlin, herself a mother of 14, identifies herself as a birth attendant who works primarily with families in the Mennonite community. She has completed the requirements to be a certified professional midwife (CPM), but New York state does not recognize CPMs as meeting the requirements to be eligible for licensure. A source within the state Assembly’s health committee says adding CPMs to New York State law would be a major change that would take years to accomplish, and would require a great deal of input from medical professionals.
Catlin’s arrest in November is related to a case last fall when she transported a laboring women to F.F. Thompson Hospital in Canandaigua. The baby was born there, but died on the way to Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester.
Officials at Thompson deny filing a complaint with the New York State Education Department about Catlin’s professional credentials. The baby’s family has distanced itself from the situation, requesting to not be mentioned in the criminal complaint filed by the state police. A State Education Department Investigator accompanied the New York State Police at Catlin’s first arrest.
While Catlin’s case works through the courts, at least three women have had babies in their homes without any attendant. And other birth attendants in New York state who are not licensed according to state requirements, but who are CPMs — a certification recognized in 30 other states — are watching this case closely as they continue to assist expectant mothers.
One of the men in Monday night’s crowd wryly asked Morabito what he suggests pregnant women do while the case continues. With Catlin under court order to refrain from assisting with births, from their perspective, there are no easy answers.
Members of the Mennonite community and Yates County Public Health officials have been working on finding alternatives.
Monday, Yates County Public Health Director Deb Minor told Yates County legislators she met with a group of four licensed midwives who are interested in helping to support the community with a short-term solution for a 24-hour on-call service.
Those midwives will also be meeting with representatives from the Mennonite community, and eventually, the midwives, public health representatives, and Mennonites will get together to try to work out a plan.
But Minor says that plan is not likely to include the option of in-home births, calling that option “unsustainable.” She said the midwives would like to have a centralized location to see women for prenatal visits and birthing. That may not be acceptable to members of the Mennonite community, who say they prefer in-home birthing for practical reasons, including the time required to travel several miles for prenatal visits in medical offices.