LaGRANGE, Ind. — The arrest of a northern Indiana woman on midwifery charges sparked a protest that highlights a long-running push in the state to legalize the practice of certified professional midwives.
Nearly 100 women, men and children protested Monday outside the LaGrange County Courthouse in support of Ireena Keeslar, a Howe resident who was arrested March 31 on a felony charge of practicing midwifery without a license.
Many of the protesting women held babies that had been delivered by unlicensed midwives, and some wore blue T-shirts reading "License my midwife" and "Liberty for midwifes."
Keeslar, who was arrested March 31, has since been released on a $10,000 bail. The Goshen News and The News-Sun of Kendallville report that she's the second midwife in LaGrange County arrested recently on the charge.
Jeannie Stanley of Albion was arrested March 9 on a probation violation and has also been charged with the same felony count of practicing midwifery without a license.
Prosecutors said they became aware of Keeslar during an investigation into the 47-year-old Stanley's alleged probation violation. Authorities allege that Keeslar assisted at a home birth in which medical procedures were performed without proper qualifications.
Keeslar, 49, was scheduled to have her initial hearing Monday morning, but her attorney, Richard Muntz, said the hearing was waived and a plea of not guilty was entered on her behalf.
LaGrange County prosecutor's investigator John Parrish said last week that both women had been licensed nurses but let their licenses lapse, making them ineligible under Indiana law to perform midwifery services.
Parrish said Indiana midwives need to be licensed nurses and complete master's degrees in midwife training. Those midwives can then be licensed as Certified Nurse Midwifes.
The News-Sun reports that Keeslar considers herself a certified professional midwife — a profession not recognized by the state of Indiana. Keeslar said she practices most of her midwifery in Michigan, where no license is required. She said Monday that she worked as a nurse at two hospitals in the past.
"So I have been at a lot of births. It is part of who I am," Keesler told The Goshen News.
Midwife advocates have been lobbying the General Assembly for more than three decades to change the midwife licensing law, with no success, said Mary Ann Griffin, president of the Indiana Midwives Association.
Griffin, who attended Monday's protest, said Keeslar and Stanley's arrests are the first such prosecutions in Indiana in the last eight or nine years.
"I think the arrest of midwives is a waste of taxpayer dollars," she said. "Indiana should legislate and not litigate."
Griffin said recent efforts to ease the state's midwifery licensing requirements had stalled in the House. She said the General Assembly's refusal to relax midwife licensing comes during a time when demand for midwife services is growing.
Several women who attended Monday's protest said they had switched to using midwives to deliver their children after having bad experiences giving birth in hospitals.
"The hospital was not a pleasant experience for me," said Sarah Miller of Michigan City.