Birth Needs a #MeToo Reckoning

The success of the #MeToo movement has hinged on the unity of many voices to flip power dynamics that once kept countless victims silent. As that dialogue expands, more people are recognizing a similar pattern of health-care providers overriding people’s “no’s” in birth. It’s even coined its own term: “birth rape,” referring to when a woman’s rights and autonomy over her own body are taken away, or disregarded, during childbirth, and if her body is subsequently violated in the process—from unwanted medication being administered without consent, to forced C-sections. And, while traumatic birth in many countries, including the U.S., has often been dismissed, some countries, like Argentina, Puerto Rico, and Venezuela actually have “Obstetric Violence” laws on the books. Obstetric violence involves dehumanizing treatment, abusive medicalization, and loss of patient autonomy.
People who have experienced maltreatment during birth are not alone; they’re not even a small exception. Health-care provider bullying and coercion during childbirth is so ingrained in obstetric culture that the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG) issued an opinion statement that condemns the practice. The opinion says, “It is never acceptable for obstetrician-gynecologists to attempt to influence patients toward a clinical decision using coercion. Obstetrician-gynecologists are discouraged in the strongest possible terms from the use of duress, manipulation, coercion, physical force, or threats.” The paper concludes, “Pregnancy does not lessen or limit the requirement to obtain informed consent or to honor a pregnant woman’s refusal of recommended treatment.” The World Health Organization, too, has called for action, research, and advocacy in order to prevent and eliminate disrespect and abuse during facility-based childbirth.

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