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Activists protest hospital’s vaginal-breech delivery ban

Opponents of a new ban on vaginal-breech delivery procedures at Glendale Adventist Medical Center protested outside the facility Wednesday.

The demonstration, organized by the activist group Improving Birth, sought to pressure the hospital to reverse its decision, which officials said this week was made in the interest of ensuring a safer delivery process for women and their children.

Instead of doing a vaginal-breech delivery — the rare instance when a baby is delivered buttocks or feet first rather than head first — Glendale Adventist staff will perform a cesarean section or refer the mother to academically affiliated obstetrics and gynecology programs that will perform the procedure.

This change was met with disdain from Improving Birth, doulas and midwives, who argued that Glendale Adventist is unfairly forcing women to have c-sections. Vaginal-breech deliveries, they contend, are safe when performed by qualified physicians, and Glendale Adventist — which staffs a doctor who is one of only a few who do vaginal breech deliveries in the Los Angeles area — is giving pregnant women fewer choices.

Carrying a sign that read “Breeched birth: A human right,” Dawn Thompson, president of Improving Birth, called the hospital’s ban unethical.

“It’s being led by the fear of liability,” she said.

In an interview Wednesday, Glendale Adventist’s vice president of clinical services and chief nursing officer, Karen Brandt-Mayo, said the ban will affect a very small number of births. In 2015, she noted, of the 2,400 deliveries at the hospital, nine involved vaginal-breech births.

“There is increasing medical evidence of potentially catastrophic risk to a baby born via vaginal-breech delivery,” she said. “Our primary focus is safety for the mom and baby.”

Protestors lined up along Wilson Terrace, in front of the hospital, to make their views known. Some drivers in passing cars honked to support the group as they chanted and carried signs with phrases such as “#LiberateLabor,” “Keep choice in childbirth,” “Reteach breech” and “My body, my choice.”

Glendale police said about 40 people, mostly mothers apparently, participated in the project, with no incidents reported.

“It was peaceful,” said Glendale Police Sgt. Robert William.

Tracy Hartley, a doula for 20 years, said Glendale Adventist staffed one of only two doctors in Greater Los Angeles who perform vaginal-breech deliveries.

“They’re taking away half of the choices,” she said.

Hartley and other protestors, who included “Fear the Walking Dead” actress Mercedes Mason, explained what they see as an unfair contradiction: If a patient enters a hospital with a deadly case of gangrene on his or her foot yet doesn’t consent to having the foot removed, the hospital obeys the wish.

“But if you go in with a breeched birth and you say, ‘I don’t want to have a c-section,’ they’ll do it to you anyway,” Hartley said.

Added Mason: “It’s all about maintaining rights for patients. There’s no other healthcare system where they force you into surgery … It’s my body, my choice. Simple as that.”

Dr. Elliot Berlin, an area prenatal chiropractor who served as executive producer for a 2015 documentary titled “Heads Up: The Disappearing Art of Vaginal Breech Delivery,” said he sees Glendale Adventist’s decision as a slippery slope toward not allowing vaginal births at all.

The hospital could no longer allow vaginal births for twins or for women who are older than 35, he said.

“It’s a crime against humanity,” Berlin said.

Brandt-Mayo countered Berlin’s statement, saying the hospital encourages vaginal births “that are safe and appropriate” and is also implementing a program to reduce the number of c-sections its staff performs.

In a statement, Dignity Health Glendale Memorial Hospital officials said, “Glendale Memorial Hospital does not prohibit vaginal-breech deliveries. Doctors carefully evaluate and discuss with patients whether vaginal-breech birth can be performed safely. We want every birth to be safe and joyful, and adhere to [American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, or ACOG] guidelines and prevailing standards.”

Though the organization once favored c-sections over vaginal-breech births, it has since reversed its opinion if the providers of the procedure have the sufficient skill and experience to perform it.

The ACOG opinion states, in part, “Cesarean delivery will be the preferred mode for most physicians because of the diminishing expertise in vaginal breech delivery ... before a vaginal breech is planned, [the] woman should be informed [of the] risk of perinatal or neonatal mortality ... and the patient’s informed consent should be documented.”

St. Joseph Medical Center officials in Burbank said they also follow ACOG guidelines regarding vaginal-breech births.

USC Verdugo Hills Hospital in Glendale does not offer the procedure, a hospital spokeswoman said.

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Bradley Zint, bradley.zint@latimes.com

Twitter: @BradleyZint


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