In 2008, weeks after Dr. Rebecca Hains had her first child at the North Shore Birth Center, she was shocked to hear that its board of trustees was seeking to close the clinic. Hains saw it as a call to action and led a successful grassroots campaign that played a role in preventing the closure. Now, 14 years and two more children for Hains later, the birth center is once again set to shut down.

Hains, a professor at Salem State University, again stood on the front lines of a community protest on Monday in front of Beverly Hospital alongside roughly a hundred supporters of the Campaign to Save the North Shore Birth Center.

Beverly Hospital announced plans last month to permanently close the center on Sept. 8 after 42 years in operation, citing a staffing shortage. The decision sparked backlash from members of local government and the community, who worry the closure will have a disproportionate impact on low-income families, and take issue with the center’s claim of low staff.

Hains said there are no other options for midwifery-based birth centers in eastern Massachusetts, and the North Shore center is home to the vast majority of birth center births in the commonwealth. “There would be disparate impacts on folks who pay out of pocket for childbirth because it is a low-cost option,” Hains told GBH News.

Beverly’s nine City Councilors all signed a statement in support of the birth center last week, writing that its closure would disproportionately affect those looking for an affordable option, as well as Black and Indigenous women who are at an increased risk of complications around maternal care.

“This is a community issue,” City Council President Julie Flowers said to the group of protesters. “It’s gonna take a community to be together, to care for one another, and to continue to do this good work.”

Hospital representatives recognized the center’s value to the local community in a statement to GBH News.

“Beverly Hospital is committed to providing the full range of women’s health services and will continue to provide an exceptional birthing experience,” wrote Beverly Hospital’s Chief Medical Officer Mark Gendreau. “[W]e will continue to offer midwife-assisted births at the hospital, and doulas will continue to be available to support the physical and emotional needs of women during labor.”

The Salem News reported the Massachusetts Nurses Association recently filed a grievance against the hospital, accusing them of negotiating new deals with nurses in bad faith. Per the union, the closure was announced just eight days after the midwives’ union contract was approved, which promised them raises as high as 27%. Advocates told GBH News that several midwives will be laid off when the center closes.

No births have occurred at the center since January due to low staffing, according to a Beverly Hospital representative, who said all patients were moved to the hospital to stay in compliance with state regulations. The hospital also pointed to the extended timetable for filling staff vacancies, citing months-long searches before recruits must then get credentialed and trained for an additional few months.

Susannah Ketchum Glass, a certified labor doula, doesn’t believe the staffing shortages are a valid reason for the hospital to shut down. “There are different, alternative options that need to be pursued,” she said to GBH News. “The hospital didn’t engage in any of that research before they made the decision to close it.”

Ketchum Glass emphasized the importance of saving the North Shore Birth Center to the Beverly City Council at a meeting last week, calling it a “place where miracles happen.”

A group gathers and holds up signs in front of the Beverly Hospital sign
Protesters hold up their signs in front of Beverly Hospital on Monday, June 13, 2022.
Kana Ruhalter GBH News

Activist Anne Gamer of Danvers referenced the broader national context to the closure announcement amid nationwide contention following the Supreme Court draft leak that called for overturning Roe v. Wade. “We’re talking about choice in the national setting,” Gamer said at the protest. “Here’s a new example of one right in our backyard that’s trying to limit women’s choices.”

But Gamer was still hopeful that the group's efforts could enable change, just as it did in 2008. “There’s a great turnout today, both in babies and moms, people, politicians,” she said. “[There is] a lot of support for keeping it open.”

“How many times do we have to keep doing this until they get it?” said Kathy Abbot, a lactation consultant in Beverly who also attended the 2008 rally. “Why is it a corporation’s choice where women give birth? Why is up to the people with money where women will give birth?”

Judy Maxfield, one of the founding members of the Birth Center, spoke to the crowd of protesters about the importance of saving the first freestanding birth center in the Northeast.

“Why would anyone want to take this option away?” asked Maxfield. “We need this choice. That is what women want.”