A Violent Birth: Reframing Coerced Procedures During Childbirth as Obstetric Violence

by Maria T.R. Borges

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Abstract

In the United States, women are routinely forced to undergo cesarean sections, episiotomies, and the use of forceps, despite their desire to attempt natural vaginal delivery. Yet, the current American legal system does little to provide redress for women coerced to undergo certain medical procedures during childbirth. Courts and physicians alike are prepared to override a woman’s choice of childbirth procedure if they believe this choice poses risks to the fetus, and both give little value to the woman’s right to bodily autonomy. This Note proposes a solution for addressing the problem of coerced medical procedures during childbirth by importing a framework created in Venezuela and Argentina that characterizes this issue as “obstetric violence.” First, this Note contains an overview of the shortcomings of the existing American legal framework to address the problem. Second, it explains the advantages of the obstetric violence framework and argues that its adoption in the United States would address many of the failures of the existing system. And third, this Note introduces a few legislative and litigation strategies that can be used to implement this framework in the United States and briefly addresses some of the challenges these strategies may pose.

A Violent Birth: Reframing Coerced Procedures During Childbirth as Obstetric Violence

by Maria T.R. Borges

Click here for a PDF file of this article

Abstract

In the United States, women are routinely forced to undergo cesarean sections, episiotomies, and the use of forceps, despite their desire to attempt natural vaginal delivery. Yet, the current American legal system does little to provide redress for women coerced to undergo certain medical procedures during childbirth. Courts and physicians alike are prepared to override a woman’s choice of childbirth procedure if they believe this choice poses risks to the fetus, and both give little value to the woman’s right to bodily autonomy. This Note proposes a solution for addressing the problem of coerced medical procedures during childbirth by importing a framework created in Venezuela and Argentina that characterizes this issue as “obstetric violence.” First, this Note contains an overview of the shortcomings of the existing American legal framework to address the problem. Second, it explains the advantages of the obstetric violence framework and argues that its adoption in the United States would address many of the failures of the existing system. And third, this Note introduces a few legislative and litigation strategies that can be used to implement this framework in the United States and briefly addresses some of the challenges these strategies may pose.