PENN YAN — Calling it a “modern day witch-hunt,” the Yates County midwife who faces nearly 100 felony charges and an Allegany County woman accused of helping her spoke during an online press conference Monday.
While she declined to discuss the specifics of her case, Elizabeth Catlin spoke to several members of the media. She was joined by midwife advocates and Melissa Carman, a Belfast woman who was charged last week by state police with unauthorized practice of a profession, a state Department of Education felony, and hindering prosecution, a misdemeanor.
Carman is accused of helping Catlin with her midwife practice in and around Penn Yan for the Mennonite community. Police said Carman discussed private medical issues of maternity patients, gave advice, and agreed to provide Catlin with prescription maternity drugs without a prescription.
“With two arrests, New York state has made the maternity care crisis even worse,” Catlin said in a brief statement. “We desperately need to have a choice — a better choice. This is a witch-hunt.”
“This is a travesty and a modern-day witch-hunt,” Carman added. “We need to support Elizabeth against these absolutely ridiculous charges.”
Catlin faces 95 felony charges for allegedly practicing as a midwife for years without a state license. She faces one count of unauthorized practice of the profession of midwifery and one count of criminally negligent homicide. The latter charge alleges she caused the death of a baby in 2018. Yates County District Attorney Todd Casella has declined to elaborate on that charge, other than to say it was levied based on evidence presented to a grand jury.
Most of the charges Catlin faces are for criminal possession of a forged instrument, identity theft and falsifying business records. Police said Catlin used the name of a Penn Yan-area medical office, as well as a staff member’s name, to set up a fraudulent account with a Rochester medical lab. Authorities also allege that Catlin, using forged requisition forms, obtained blood samples from her clients and sent them to a lab to be screened or tested.
Catlin has received plenty of support from the Mennonite community at court appearances. An anonymous participant at Monday’s press conference, a Mennonite woman, said Catlin helped her through a difficult pregnancy in 2013.
“She told us she was a birth attendant. She never passed herself off as a midwife. We were fine with that,” the woman said.
“Where is our freedom of choice here? Where is someone to answer the phone at 2 a.m. and someone to call when the going gets tough? That was Elizabeth. She is my friend.”
The woman added that the Mennonite community, including the family of the baby who died, do not fault Catlin.
“We don’t blame her,” the woman said. “Why should somebody else?”
Catlin and Carman were joined in the press conference by maternal care advocates from different parts of the country, who collectively blamed a poorly functioning U.S. medical system for trying to maintain a monopoly on childbirth. The event was organized by Linda Hamilton of Birth Without Boundaries.
The advocates also cited “rampant obstetrical violence in hospital birth experiences” and said home birth is as safe, if not safer, than hospital births.
Indra Lusero, staff attorney for National Advocates for Pregnant Women and founder of the Birth Rights Bar Association, said 34 states — New York is not one of them — allow certified professional midwives to delivery babies in the home.
“Some people just assume the law is rational ... and now midwives are being criminally charged,” she said.