Bioethics Blogs

Restricting Choices of Childbearing Women

by Bela Fishbeyn, M.S.

In this month’s issue of AJOB, Howard Minkoff and Mary Faith Marshall argue that we ought to acknowledge the inherent complexity and personal nature of risks involved in childbirth, and thus defer, when possible, to the decisions made by autonomous mothers-to-be. They place this in opposition to the claim that, “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,” and discourage deference to the evaluations of clinicians and judges. However, for mothers-to-be to access autonomy presupposes access to options that may not exist in the world, and in our current system that overwhelmingly favors medicalized birth, access to other birth options is limited.

The discovery of my own pregnancy initiated my research into prenatal care and childbirth in Northern California. Without prior conscious effort, I had become convinced that childbirth will not only be the most painful experience I’ll ever go through, but that I apparently have no sense at all of how to give birth without the rescue of medical intervention. But as I began replacing my images of childbirth from those I had seen portrayed in our media with those informed by reading about more natural childbirth options, I grew to understand that pregnancy and childbirth is a normal, natural process that can be directed by the woman instead of a pathology requiring urgent medical care. This shift in thinking freed me from my fear and replaced it with a deep desire to experience pregnancy and birth, but I want it on my terms.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.