A move by the state’s health agency to require more doctor involvement at natural birth centers has scores of mothers outraged.

Birth centers provide midwives to help women give birth. Mothers go to a hospital and call in a doctor only when there’s a serious complication. The Department of Health and Environmental Control sent out notices Saturday saying birth centers must have doctors who are on call to come to the center when needed.

Such a requirement would put the Charleston Birth Place out of business, according to owner Lesley Rathburn.

“Birth is a normal body function, and it falls in the domain of health,” Rathburn said Sunday. “Women don’t need to have their births managed. If a birth falls outside of what’s normal, midwives and mothers are entirely capable of making the decision to move it to the next level.”

The Birth Place is just minutes from Trident Hospital. Dr. James Martin is on call if a birth gets complicated. Calling a doctor to the birth center to decide if a mother needs to go to a hospital is just an unnecessary delay, he said.

“I can’t figure out why DHEC is doing this,” he said. “As a physician, that doesn’t make any sense at all. Midwives are qualified to know when a mother needs to go the hospital.”

State law says, “A physician must be on call and available to provide medical assistance at the birthing center at all times that it is serving the public.”

DHEC officials got involved after they found out a birthing center in Rock Hill had an on-call contract with a doctor in Greenville, Director Catherine Templeton said Sunday.

“We want to make sure that when they do need a doctor, the doctor that is on call is available physically to come to the facility,” she said. “It’s not a new law; it’s just a correct enforcement of the law.”

The policy does not mean a midwife has to wait for a doctor to arrive before she calls EMS if a medical emergency develops, she said.

The Birth Place could be forced to close in two weeks if the staff does not demonstrate compliance with DHEC’s interpretation of state law, Rathburn said. The center has retained a lawyer to challenge this interpretation of state law. Plans include asking a judge to put any DHEC action on hold.

“DHEC’s recent reversal of policy is illogical,” attorney Laura Evans said in an email Sunday. “For almost 20 years, DHEC has required that a physician be available for telephone consultation only. To suddenly change its position to require a physician to be physically available is not supported by the language of the statute and regulation, clinical standards, or reason.”

DHEC’s Facebook page was deluged with comments from protesting mothers. Several mothers came out to the center in North Charleston on Sunday afternoon to show support. Stacy Alberico, who is expecting her second child Dec. 5, said she is praying the center will still be open when it’s time for her to deliver.

“This is as natural as possible but close to a hospital in case anything goes wrong,” she said.

Birth Place supporters were planning a rally at 5 p.m. Monday at the College of Charleston. The location had not been finalized Sunday night.

Reach Dave Munday at 937-5553.