On Wednesday of this past week, Arizona’s Senate Health and Human Services Committee passed a measure, that, if passed in the full Senate and the House, will severely restrict a woman’s right to choose where she gives birth. The bill bans midwives from attending women at home who have had a prior cesarean, among other restrictions. In this article, “Senate Bill Pursues Midwife Restrictions,” as though to solidify why birth is a reproductive rights issue, Senator Kelli Ward said:
“I’m a pro-life legislator. I see the mom and the baby as two separate entities,” Ward said. “I would love to preserve the choice of the mother for their home birth, but that child also needs to have a choice … the choice not to die.”
We already know that Personhood laws are being used to force pregnancy. What we are also finding is that in addition to their intended outcome of restricting access to abortion, these same measures are being used to remove pregnant people’s physical liberties even outside of abortion.
Last year, National Advocates for Pregnant Women published a three decade long study, which revealed how personhood laws had far reaching implications on pregnant and birthing people’s rights. The study found hundreds of instances of women incarcerated for miscarriage and stillbirth, and women who had been physically restrained and forced to undergo unwanted surgery.
And now the anti-choice rhetoric is being explicitly used to further restrict women’s rights to choose the circumstances of their births. This language paints a dichotomy whereby a woman and her fetus are in presumed conflict with one another and are, in effect, legal opponents. Which raises the question, who is best positioned to make the best decisions about one’s child – especially when that child is still within and part of a woman – the State or the woman, herself?
From women’s increasing inability to access birth control and abortion, all the way to the choices they wish to make about how to birth their babies, women are having their rights challenged across the reproductive health spectrum.
Not only is the binding of women’s autonomy disturbing, but in a state like Arizona, where only 11% of women are supported in VBAC, and where fourteen hospitals have known mandatory surgery policies for women with prior c-sections, these measures are even more concerning.
VBAC bans are based on litigious concerns and not on evidence. Major health organizations, including The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) agree that VBAC is a “safe” and “reasonable” choice. Every repeat surgery carries increasing serious risk, such as placental problems in subsequent pregnancies, emergency hysterectomy, need for blood transfusion, and ICU admission. And as U.S. C-section rates increase, so do the maternal morbidity rates.
Forcing surgery on women who would not otherwise consent by means of removing support for an alternate choice is a serious violation of a pregnant person’s human rights. Not only that, restricting women’s choice makes birth less safe. Women should not be placed in situations where they must “choose” between forced, risky surgery or unassisted birth at home.
Women should not have to ask permission or beg in order to use their vaginas to birth their babies if they want to.
It’s time to stop abusing women via dehumanizing practices, policies, and law. It’s time to bring the issue of birth as a reproductive right into the broader reproductive justice conversation. These are fundamental autonomy and right to choose issues.
ACOG Practice Bulletin:
Arizona VBAC Data:
Arrests and Forced Interventions on Pregnant Women in the United States, 1973-2005: Implications for Women’s Legal Status and Public Health:
CDC – Severe Maternal Morbidity in the United States
ICAN’S VBAC Hospital Policy Information:
NIH VBAC Statement: