Though we don’t always acknowledge it, the experience of giving birth is complicated and potentially dangerous. Miss Celania of Mental Floss delineates this, and suggests that as childbirth technologies and safety have improved, the birth experience has become less communal. In the past, childbirth was treated with less outside intervention. Now, it’s kind of the opposite, as evidenced by the current increase in C-sections. However, both past and present, whether it’s clergy or doctors, there have often been circumstances of outside interference with women’s choices in giving birth.
Take C-sections, for example. Though sometimes medically necessary, there have been cases where women have undergone C-sections despite stating that the procedure was performed against their wishes. We’ve also heard of cases where C-sections have been performed on women who were carrying nonviable fetuses or otherwise could not consent to the procedure.
The medical establishment gained a role in childbirth around the Renaissance. This marked a change of power between female midwives and male doctors. I don’t mean to imply that the world would be a better place if this shift hadn’t happened. Modern medicine has been indispensable to making childbirth safer for women. But this doesn’t mean that regression – when it comes to childbirth – isn’t possible. To the contrary, the worst kind of this has emerged in recent years in the separation of woman and fetus into two levels of concern.
The Personhood Movement, which (absurdly) pursues legal protections for fetuses, has taken this mentality to an extreme, prioritizing potential future people over pregnant women and their own bodily autonomy. This is the type of warped thinking that leads to interpreting childbirth or pregnancy complications as a murder. This fixation on protecting fetuses did not emerge only recently, and it often targets women who experience medical complications – and even blames women for them – especially women who have the slightest involvement with drugs.
For example, this spring, Tennessee enacted a new anti-choice law that permits the criminal investigation and conviction of women with a history of drug use who experience abnormal births. The law doesn’t improve drug programs, and critics–pro and anti-choice alike–project that it will result in tremendous stress for pregnant women and will actually motivate more abortions.
This law is presented – falsely – as focused on keeping babies healthy while actively trying to control women’s reproductive decisions. Much of anti-choice sentiment puts a disproportionate weight on women’s culpability for poor birth outcomes. The Tennessee law and 16-year-old Rennie Gibbs’s unjust indictment are prime examples of this unfair targeting of women and children.
And it doesn’t end with drugs. It doesn’t end anywhere. In 1987, both cancer patient Angela Carder and her newborn perished after her doctor made the unilateral decision to deliver the baby via C-section before she died. Yet even after this debacle, some doctors and politicians continue to claim medical, legal and moral high ground over pregnant women, such as Samantha Burton and Lisa Epsteen in 2013.
Ultimately, the innate complexity of childbirth has been used as an excuse to subjugate women and punish their choices. Childbirth is complicated, and it can be dangerous. But that’s all the more reason to respect women’s choices when it comes to pregnancy and birth.
Featured image via TipsTimesAdmin on Flickr.