This week a Brazilian woman was taken by force by police from her home while in labor. Her crime? Refusing a repeat cesarean and having the audacity to insist that she – the pregnant woman – had the highest investment in her health, her baby’s health, and the outcome of her pregnancy. Her sentence was a court order handed down from a judge that would force her to undergo major abdominal surgery for the birth of her child against her will.
Here are the details from Brazilian obstetrician Dr. Ricardo Herbert Jones:
A woman with 2 previous c-sections was doing her prenatal care at a public health center in Torres, a small town by the sea, close to where I live in Brasil. She went through 42 weeks pregnancy, and the doctor said she was supposed to do a c-section because of her 2 previous surgeries and the fact that the baby was breech. She asked the doctor if she could show them (her, the husband and the doula) the ultrasound, but the doctor refused to show them.
So she decided to go back home and wait for labor begin on [its own]. The doctor said she could not do that because she’d put the baby (and herself) in a life threatening situation (because the uterus could rupture). She signed all the papers and left the hospital (Paper about being responsible for whatever happen and freeing the doctor from any responsibility on her case. In other words, she was refusing medical treatment by disagreeing with doctor’s advices.)
So, another doctor (and also a female obstetrician) decided to call the public prosecutor (I don’t remember how it’s called in english) and these guys called the police, to arrest her and do a c-section in the hospital.
For the doctors here, the obstetricians, the judge (all are females) are “heroes.” For the activists it’s a precedent REALLY dangerous, because there’s no CLEAR indication for a c-section and, most of all, the woman REFUSED to do a c-section without a trial of labor.
She remained at home and the contractions began. She was at home with the doula and the husband. The idea was to go back to the hospital in advanced labour, so she could have a chance to deliver vaginally. And, yes… the police knocked the door and she was sent to the hospital. They refused to allow the husband or anybody else to stay with her. In my opinion that’s crime.
My doctor colleagues in Brasil are proud of the obstetricians and the judge. They say “Stop these doulas that want to diagnose and treat women.” They blame the doula for “convincing” the patient to refuse treatment.”
Now, we could waste all kinds of time analyzing risk and evidence supporting this woman’s choice. But I’m not going to. Because it’s a MOOT POINT.
It is completely irrelevant whether you, or I, or your brother, or my aunt, or a physician, or a judge believe that this woman’s choice – or ANY person’s choice – about their own body is a rational or good choice. I’ve heard people say that they don’t like the idea of force, but in this case it seems like it might have been warranted. That maybe in this case it was necessary because, after all, the baby may have been breech, and it’s important to look out for the welfare of that child.
What does this mentality say about our opinion of women?
I’ll tell you what it screams to me. It blares that women + lack intelligence. That women are incapable of making good choices. That women are foolish and selfish and flippant about themselves and about their babies.
All humans – women +, especially – should be terrified for such a precedence. We should be up in arms of the atrocity that this family had to endure. That this woman, specifically, had to endure. It’s easy to distance ourselves, isn’t it? To sit on our moral high horse and assume that she did something wrong. Because when we create boundaries between ourselves and someone so devastatingly oppressed, we can create a false reality that holds the narrative that tells us that this could never happen to us.
But it could. It could happen to any one of us. Let’s break it down. If we assume and allow another entity to hold agency over the fetus growing inside of a pregnant person’s body, any and all choices made by that person are suspect.
- Whether or not she’s forced to carry a pregnancy
- What substances she may ingest while pregnant or potentially pregnant
- What exams and tests she may accept or refuse
- Where she may give birth
- Who may attend her in birth
- What interventions she must succumb to in labor
- What exams she must endure
All of the above could be framed in a way as to argue for “the best interest of the fetus.” But who, I ask, is the most invested person in the outcome of a pregnancy? Do we really assume that anyone other than the pregnant person, herself, is more invested than she is?
Choices about one’s health and one’s pregnancy and one’s baby are subjective. Because a homebirth was the right choice for me, but the hospital felt safer to you, does that make one of the choices morally and definitively wrong? Because one person chose a repeat cesarean and another a VBAC at home, does that mean one was less invested in her outcome and the other more?
Sadly, this story isn’t original. It isn’t a new or unique phenomenon. Instances of patients being forced to comply in pregnancy is the new cross for pregnant people to bear. These cases happen all over the world – including the U.S., the U.K., and Ireland. What makes this story special isn’t necessarily the narrative, but the stark image of brutal force via arrest by uniformed police officers:
A person seeking to make the best choice for her body and her baby is quite literally treated like a weapon-wielding criminal. Her very own body, the purported weapon to be used against her baby. She is deemed dangerous enough to place in custody so that she is rendered incapable of “harming” anyone. And she is then forced to be strapped down and splayed open on the slab as punishment.
Take a person during her most vulnerable and most powerful
Terrorize her sense of safety
Then slice her open
Stitch her up
Show her who’s boss.
There truly could not be a more gruesome image of this bloody battle we call “The War on Women.”