Merry Cavanaugh and Roberta Williams are District of Columbia women who felt so strongly about having a midwife deliver their babies that they decided to have the births at home.

Both say they would have preferred to give birth at a hospital, where backup equipment and doctors are available in case of emergency, but that D.C. hospitals would not allow the midwives to do the delivery.

"Was I scared? Not too much. My husband was terrified, but all went well," said Cavanaugh. She was among those testifying yesterday at a D.C. City Council subcommittee hearing on a bill to mandate greater access to hospitals for nurse-midwives, psychologists, podiatrists and other nonphysician health providers.

D.C. hospitals have opposed the bill, saying it would take quality control out of their hands, would lead to greater liability risks and would not reduce costs for patients, one of the rationales for the measure. The bill gives the hospital authority to establish their criteria for admitting the nonphysican practitioners on an individual basis.

The D.C. Medical Society, representing city doctors, changed its position last week after first opposing legislation that would mandate access. Now the society says it can accept legislation requiring access to hospitals for the health practitioners, as long as they are under the supervision of doctors. Opponents say that it would simply mean double billing for patients.

Dr. Dennis O'Leary, medical society president, said physician supervision would not have to mean double billing. If a physician merely admits a patient, evaluates her and turns her over to a midwife, he would not necessarily charge a fee for that, O'Leary said.

Currently, midwives are used at D.C. General, at George Washington University Hospital only for those involved in the group health plan there, and at Georgetown University Hospital for pregnant adolescents under a D.C. program. Physicians at Columbia Hospital for Women and at Washington Hospital Center voted not to allow midwives to deliver there.

Jessica Damen Lusk had her first child delivered by a midwife in a hospital in the Bronx, and credits the midwife with helping her withstand 37 hours of labor and avoiding a cesarean section.

Lusk was among the mothers who testified that midwives are more patient and caring than obstetricians, put their clients more in control of what is going on, stress normal deliveries and charge less.

The committee will consider the comments on the bill and consider changes. It is not clear when the panel will take official action on the measure, which was cosponsored by a majority of the council members.