Renee Ann Cramer

Nov 4, 2021

Birthing a Movement

Midwives, Law, and the Politics of Reproductive Care

Stanford University Press 2021

Political Scientist Renee Ann Cramer’s newest book Birthing a Movement tells the stories of American midwives and their battle for reproductive rights, legal intervention, and mobilization. This book is grounded in over a decade’s worth of empirical and qualitative data that illustrates the ways that gender, state regulations, health policy, law, and social movements intersect within the profession and advocation of midwives. Cramer uses the power of the personal narrative to expose the patchwork and fragmented nature of reproductive care in the United States, with a particular focus on the way that midwives do and don’t fit into the birthing process.

Birthing a Movement: Midwives, Law, and the Politics of Reproductive Care (Stanford UP, 2021) examines the legal and regulatory morass that certified professional midwives (CPM) face across the United States. Cramer explains the distinctions between CPM and certified nurse midwives (CNM) and how these two groups of differently trained midwives are differently treated by different laws in the various states across the country. Midwifery is part of the larger umbrella category of reproductive care in the United States, which is fragmented in a number of different policy areas, including access to abortion and pre- and post-natal care. Cramer’s multi-method approach to the research also provides the reader with an understanding of the distinctions between care available in urban or suburban parts of the country in contrast to the rural parts of America, where medical care is harder to come by and often far away from where individuals live and work. This is even more problematic around reproductive care, since, as Cramer notes in our conversation, the healthcare crisis in rural America is really a maternity care crisis. This crisis has been made more acute, of late, by the efforts to undermine or shutter Planned Parenthood centers, leading to what are essentially healthcare “deserts” in parts of the U.S.

The focus of Birthing a Movement, the capacity and regulation of midwives in the United States, also brings to the surface broader issues about the medical-industrial complex, including the way that this very natural process, the birth of a child, has been mechanized and has also led to substantial forms of intervention in the process itself. The mortality rates in the United States are higher than in other developed/industrialized countries, and these rates are disproportionate across the population, with much higher rates for women and children of color. Cramer dives into the research on how institutionalized racism is embedded in the birthing process, as it is in so many other aspects of American society and, specifically, healthcare.

Birthing a Movement: Midwives, Law, and the Politics of Reproductive Care weaves together research from across a host of different academic disciplines and presents the reader with an accessible and captivating understanding of the legal, regulatory, and policy complexities of midwifery and reproductive health in the United States.

Shaina Boldt assisted with this podcast.

Lilly J. Goren is professor of political science at Carroll University in Waukesha, WI. She is co-editor of the award winning book, Women and the White House: Gender, Popular Culture, and Presidential Politics (University Press of Kentucky, 2012), as well as co-editor of Mad Men and Politics: Nostalgia and the Remaking of Modern America (Bloomsbury Academic, 2015). Email her comments at or tweet to @gorenlj.

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Lilly Goren

Lilly J. Goren is professor of political science at Carroll University in Waukesha, WI.

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