A bill introduced into the S.C. Legislature last week could end a battle between the state's birthing centers and the agency that oversees them - if there's enough time left this year to pass it.

House Bill H. 5002 would clarify that birthing centers aren't required to have a doctor on site if the center is near a hospital.

Last November, the Department of Health and Environmental Control sent out notices that birthing centers must have a doctor available to come to the center in case of an emergency. Supporters of the Charleston Birth Place protested, saying that was a new interpretation of the law. The birth center is near Trident Hospital, and Dr. James Martin has said he will meet mothers at the hospital if there is a problem.

Charleston Birth Place Center Director Lesley Rathburn said DHEC's interpretation of the law would shut them down if it's enforced. Several hundred supporters showed up at the College of Charleston to protest DHEC's interpretation of the law.

DHEC Director Catherine Templeton responded by giving birthing centers six months to change state law. The deadline is the middle of June. Templeton sent a letter to Rathburn on March 6 reminding her of the deadline either to change the law or comply with it.

Rathburn had drafted an amendment that clarifies that mothers who run into problems at birthing centers can meet a doctor at a nearby hospital. State Rep. Jenny Anderson Horne, a Summerville Republican, introduced a bill with the new language March 27. It was sent to the House Committee on Medical, Military, Public and Municipal Affairs.

The center sent out letters to supporters urging them to contact their legislators to get the bill passed. If it's not passed before DHEC's deadline, Rathburn said she will file for an injunction to extend the deadline.

"We will take whatever legal means necessary to prevent further action from DHEC to ensure women continue to have safe access to birth centers for their child birth," she said in a statement this week.

Reach Dave Munday at 937-5553.