The Centre for Reproductive Rights on Rights in Childbirth
I have been asked to speak about how we can situate the issue of women's rights in childbirth within the broader spectrum of reproductive rights.
First of all, I want to underline how important it is to not separate the violations of women's rights in childbirth from other reproductive rights violations. We should resist the tendency to see maternal health care deficits as distinct and separate from other reproductive rights issues, such as access to contraceptives or abortion care.
In fact many of the human rights violations that women experience in the context of childbirth are entirely interconnected with and indivisible from other violations of reproductive rights. They derive from many of the same root causes and they share many common cross cutting features.
In this short time I will highlight three of the fundamental interconnections between violations of women's rights in childbirth and other reproductive rights violations.
1. The first interconnection is the fact that they often result from many of the same shared underlying harmful gender stereotypes and assumptions.
Women face multiple pervasive and persistent harmful gender stereotypes in the context of their reproductive rights. I will highlight three examples of these harmful gender stereotypes that are particularly salient for our conversation today.
One stereotype is that women are irrational and emotionally volatile and therefore incapable of making rational and good decisions. This stereotype underlies so many of the reproductive rights violations that women face. It is evident in laws that restrict women's access to abortion services. It can also be seen in the practice of sterilizing certain groups of women without their free and informed consent and it is a fundamental cause of abuse and non-consensual medical treatment of women during childbirth.
A second stereotype places the protection of a fetus or "unborn human life" above women's personal interests and needs. This stereotype not only results in restrictive abortion laws, but also in disregard for women's decision making capacity during childbirth, including where medical interventions are conducted that women have not given their free and informed consent to.
A third stereotype is that women's natural role in society is primarily as mothers and caregivers. This stereotype can be linked to rules that deny women access to contraception, that force women to undergo biased counseling seeking to dissuade them from having an abortion, and that restrict women's access to critical reproductive health information.
2. The second interconnection that I want to highlight is the use of the law to limit women's reproductive choices, including through the force of criminal law and sanctions.
Laws and policies perpetuate or enforce harmful gender stereotypes by restricting women's ability to make the choices that are right for them.
We see many examples of such laws and they span a wide range of reproductive rights issues. For example, laws that ban the sale of emergency contraception or laws that restrict women's access to safe and legal abortion care. Another example are laws and policies in several Eastern European countries that effectively prevent women who wish to give birth at home from doing so with skilled birth attendance.
3. The final common or shared underlying issue that I want to highlight is the high level of stigma which surrounds and cuts across so many reproductive rights issues, including abuse and discrimination during childbirth.
For example, where access to abortion is restricted and subject to criminal sanctions it generates significant stigma for women as the health service they need is portrayed as wrong, harmful and deserving of punishment.
Similarly, the abuses women face during childbirth in many countries in the region are also shrouded in stigma. Often the treatment women receive is not understood as wrong, and they may even themselves feel ashamed to speak out about the abuses they have experienced.
Katrine Thomasen works at the Centre for Reproductive Rights where she works on litigation to promote respect for reproductive rights in Europe. Katrine holds bachelor and master degrees in law from the University of Copenhagen, Denmark.
The Center for Reproductive Rights has for more than 20 years used the law to advance reproductive freedom as a fundamental human right that all governments are legally obligated to protect, respect, and fulfill.
Napisao/la: Katrine Thomansen
Photo: Fotograf Michael Thomas, Frederiksberg