Human Rights in Childbirth

Earlier this year the first international conference on Human Rights In Childbirth was held in the Netherlands. The movement leading up to and coming out of this ground breaking conference about the directions being taken to address human rights in childbirth is both hopeful and exciting. Having the opportunity to listen to this conference, I remember thinking–finally, we are focusing on the woman!

How a mother chooses to birth her baby is a woman’s choice and a basic human right. Here in Saskatchewan, birthing rights are compromised in several ways: For example, the failure to provide informed consent by medical professionals, to perform procedures against a woman’s wishes, and to restrict who can attend out of hospital births all infringe on our human rights.

This takes a toll not just on birthing women, but on all of us. On one hand, maternity issues tend to be considered “women’s issues” and not human rights issues. On the other hand, there a culture of fear surrounding birth that is reinforced by the media and the medical establishment which serve to perpetuate the mindset of ‘control over’ birth (women) under the guise of ‘keeping it safe.” Being excluded from a human rights mandate because maternity is a ‘woman’s issue’ takes away a woman’s human right to birthing freedom.

I feel that whenever the focus is not on the woman, any “solution” in maternity care will fall short of protecting her human rights. Using one misuse of the words “let” or “allow” or deeming what is safe for the woman violates her rights. It saddens me when I hear “it’s midwives that make birth safe.” Shifting focus to midwives and away from the woman is also missing the point. And yet it’s a sentiment that persists.

I want to share something Dr. Nancy Salgueiro recently wrote in her article, Delivery room choices: Mothers fight for right to informed consent:

“Women have the right to informed consent in birth. We are not fighting for that right. It is our right. The reality is this right to informed consent is not being upheld and women are being violated against the law but it has become the norm in our society that no one recognizes it or does anything about it.”

I, for one, feel like we are expending too much energy debating rights which are inherent–and this very thing prevents us from taking action and making change. It’s so subtle and yet so pervasive that it is even shows up in a few comments made at a conference on human rights! We must correct ourselves whenever we think we can give women permission to bodily autonomy. It is not something anyone can give. It’s already hers.

“To allow is to exercise as much, if not more power, than to forbid” (R.D. Laing).

The time has come. Raising awareness and recognizing human rights violations in childbirth is here–the Human Rights in Childbirth Conference was pivotal in that and I applaud the efforts and contributions that made it happen. Now the issue really is that our rights are not being upheld. It’s up to each of us to decide what we are going to do about it.

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