Midwife ordered to stop delivering babies

Indianapolis Star/August 19, 2006
By Tim Evans

A 73-year-old Morgan County woman who served as midwife at the birth of an infant who died has been ordered by a judge to stop delivering babies.

But Doris White -- who has delivered about 100 babies, many for people affiliated with a church whose members turn to prayer rather than doctors -- told the court she couldn't promise to abide by the order.

Morgan Superior Court Judge G. Thomas Gray issued the permanent injunction Thursday prohibiting the Morgantown woman from practicing midwifery.

Gray's ruling likely ends a legal case that began after a grand jury indicted White in November 2005 on a felony charge of practicing midwifery without a license. The indictment followed an investigation into the death of Sarah Leeman.

The baby died June 4, 2005, six days after her premature birth at the Martinsville home of her parents, Louis and Patricia Leeman, who are associated with the General Assembly and Church of the Firstborn in Morgantown.

Medical experts testified there was a 98 percent chance the baby, who died from complications of an infection, would have survived if she had been seen by medical professionals and treated with an antibiotic, said Morgan County Prosecutor Steve Sonnega.

Neither White nor her attorney could be reached Friday.

Sonnega said the injunction is a fair end to the case, but added White could face contempt and possibly other charges if she violates the judge's order.

"This was a way of getting Doris' attention," he said. "We have put her and others on notice that there are laws that regulate midwifery."

While the criminal case focused on White's violation of Indiana law regulating midwives, it was framed by the larger issue of the sometimes-blurry line between the law and religious freedom. That is obvious, Sonnega said, in the stance of church members who say they respect the state's laws but answer only to God's law.

The prosecutor said he had hoped the indictment would be enough to provide the leverage to get White to stop delivering babies. But, after meeting with her and other church officials, he realized that was not the case.

"In a way, it is refreshing to have people whose faith is so pure and strong," he said. "But on the other hand, they are out of step with the laws of Indiana."

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