Birth choice and human rights

The bastards hard-working bods at Sky/BT have deigned to return the internet to me after more than two months in the web-free wasteland, and while I feel like a fish that’s finally been returned to water after some dude with too much time on his hands decided to stick a hook through my cheek and leave me gasping at death’s door on the deck of his boat while he and his friends congratulate each other on their manly hunting prowess*, it also means that I once again have access to hair-pullingly infuriating comments such as this:

Women have the right to choose how and where to give birth, but they do not have the right to put their baby at risk.

Yes, according to The Lancet, a pregnant woman’s right to decide what happens to her body can and should be trumped by another person’s opinion of what’s best for her baby. This is despite legal precedent confirming that a baby only gets equal rights to the mother after birth.

The article in question argues that despite the results of last year’s largest ever study into home vs. hospital birth, which found that there is no increased risk of death in either mother or baby when low-risk women give birth at home, we should continue to approach home birth with “caution”. Why? Because a meta-analysis of studies undertaken in countries with vastly different medical models and approaches to birth found that neonatal mortality rates increased from 0.09% to 0.2% when a woman gave birth at home.

As Fertile Fem points out:

Comparing home birth in the UK (where trained midwives attend around 90% of births and where there is a free-at-the-point-of-use national health care system) with home birth in the US — where only 8% of births are attended by midwives (some of whom are not certified) and where affordable, accessible antenatal care is not always easy to come by — is like looking at apples and oranges and declaring them the same because they are round.

Furthermore, despite acknowledging that there are numerous risks involved in hospital births, the author of the article associates ‘putting the baby at risk’ only with home birth. We are not encouraged to ‘proceed with caution’ when entering a hospital. (But I suppose at least in hospital the experts are in control, rather than pregnant women with their pesky purpose-built birthing equipment.)

This is undoubtedly a pro-choice issue. Like anti-abortionists, medical professionals who believe that women ‘do not have the right to put their baby at risk’ relegate women to the status of incubators, and untrustworthy ones at that. When ‘putting the baby at risk’ can range from failing to diet before you even conceive (a recent Times article argued that doctors need to be “more aggressive” about getting women to lose weight before they get pregnant), to eating blue cheese, to deciding that you would rather not put yourself at the mercy of time-pressed hospital medics who may use drugs to speed up what your body could likely achieve on its own or carry out an unnecessary episiotomy because it will improve your husband’s sex life (see here for some stories), a woman’s ability to live her life as she chooses is severely curtailed.

In this climate, the logical conclusion to The Lancet’s brand of risk aversion would be to place all women in a strictly monitored isolation room from the moment of conception to the day their baby is prised out of them.

Forcing a woman to give birth in a manner that is not of her choosing – be that due to a medical expert’s wishes being considered more important than her own, hospital midwives being too overworked to attend home births or the existence of a local NHS policy against providing certain birth choices – is a violation of her human rights, and something that every pro-choice feminist should be worried about.

See Fertile Fem’s post for more.

*Sky have also brought a number of what appear to be 24-hour extreme fishing channels into my living room.

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