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Accused midwife draws a major crowd in Penn Yan

About 100 supporters filled the lobby of the Penn Yan Village Hall 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 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.

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