The War on Women Just Got Bloody Brutal in Brazil

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.

Photo courtesy of Turn the Right Corner.

Photo courtesy of Turn the Right Corner.

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 – WOMEN 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 are idiots. That women are incapable of making good choices. That women are foolish and selfish and flippant about themselves and about their babies.

That other women support using forceful compliance – the literal strapping down and slicing open of another woman is a revelation of the most astounding kind. That society has arrived to a place where women can hold positions of great power and use those positions to oppress their fellow sisters is the most sinister understanding of “equality” one could possibly hold.

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 devestatingly 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 woman’s body, any and all choices made by that pregnant 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 a pregnant person’s health and the outcome of her 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 is 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 woman chose a repeat cesarean and another a VBAC at home, does that mean one was less invested in her outcome and the other more?

Who gets to make these choices? Whose moral standards get to dictate who is allowed to access their bodily autonomy rights and who isn’t?

Sadly, this story isn’t original. It isn’t a new or unique phenomenon. Instances of women being forced to comply in pregnancy is the new cross for women 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 pregnant woman 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 woman during her most vulnerable and most powerful
Secure her
Seclude her
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.”

*Another U.S. case of forced cesarean, threatened forced cesarean and #howwehatewomen here and here.

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  1. Christina says

    I think you took a wrong turn where you set it up as “fetus as a separate entity” as the main problem here. The fetus IS a separate entity, in one sense. It has its own DNA and a set of all of its own organs. That isn’t what makes this forced c-section so reprehensible. What’s terrible is that there is SKADS of evidence that a repeat c-section would be WORSE for both her and baby. This isn’t just about body autonomy. It’s also about plain old commonsense AND parental responsibilty. It isn’t that the baby is separate from her– it’s that SHE, not the OB, is the baby’s mom, and the responsibility is hers to care for her child first and foremost. What she was doing can be proven to be beneficial to baby and mom both.

    • Profile photo of Kathi Valeii says

      So then, based on that reasoning, if there were compelling, evidence-based concerns that would have, on a risk-analysis perspective, made the c-section the “safest” choice, would forced compliance have been warranted?

      How about the conflicting “evidence” on the safety of homebirth? If one were to present the Wax Study as evidence that homebirth were not safe (as ACOG and the AAP have done), should a woman be compelled to then have a hospital birth?

      This is an autonomy issue. When we make it about anything else, the cards crumble.

      • Ana Costa says

        The worst is that this woman wasn’t intending to have a homebirth. She was in labour, waiting the right time to come back to an hospital, when she was “dragged” by armed policemen.

  2. Christina says

    Most moms aren’t pitting themselves against their child in labor; to the contrary, most moms have their child’s best interests at heart! Establishing that there are two people whose lives and bodies are involved (mom & baby) in no way implies that the two have opposing needs! What’s good for baby is good for mom, 99% of the time (and most moms– all good ones– would choose baby’s good over self, if it came to it), abd what’s good for mom is good for baby, 99% of the time. Why create oppositional interests that don’t exist!?

    • Profile photo of Kathi Valeii says

      Absolutely, pregnant people are the most invested people in the outcomes of their births, in their own health, and in the health of their babies. A woman’s agency over her own body, her inherent rights to bodily autonomy do not pit a woman against her baby. The conclusion that pregnant women’s autonomy rights conflict with her baby’s rights is a notion that is rooted in a very perverse belief system about women.

  3. kitten says

    I recently gave birth on my bathroom floor. This had not been my intention. In fact, my husband and I rushed to the hospital when contractions suddenly went from 7 minutes apart to 3 minutes apart and were quite agonizing after only 6 hours from the time they started. Well We got to the hospital and I was only at a 3. I wanted to sleep. I was exhausted, and I asked the nurse for something to help me sleep. They refused to give me anything. Then the doctor came in and started insisting I get up and make labor progress. I was exhausted, I needed sleep. I told her this, and she argued with me then started insisting on using Pitocin on me. As a VBAC patient, that really should not have been a recommendation as it increases the risk of uterine rupture and it was completely unnecessary. I knew my facts, I argued my points using my own research. She argued with me and told me I was inconveniencing her. Oh, how dare I inconvenience my OBGYN and make her do her job on my baby’s schedule! Well she said I could either obey her or go home. I left, after she made me sign a statement releasing her from responsibility. I barely made it back to my house, was planning on resting some and then going to the hospital, but 45 minutes from the time I left the hospital, I was holding my baby. Clearly I did not need the Pitocin the doctor had been insisting on less than an hour before. My point here? Women know their bodies! They know what they are capable of. And it is her body and her baby, it is her decision. I do not know how Brazil is but in America, abortion is legal in all states and you do not have to have a reason to choose to do so or have to fight to do it because it is the woman’s body. So why are women forced into medical care for the life that only months before they could choose to terminate? That just does not make sense to me. Is it not still that woman’s body?

    • Profile photo of Kathi Valeii says

      Word. What a great story. It seems like a classic example of the extreme importance of a laboring woman’s sense of emotional, physical and mental safety. How could a woman possibly be expected to labor in the environment you described – condescension, coercion, and strangers? And yet, it’s the exact environment most women endure everyday in labor beds across the globe. And we wonder why labor seems so dysfunctional, or why we “need” so many interventions to get those babies to come out.

  4. Livia Bezerra says

    Here in Brazil abortion is illegal. You are forced to carry out the pregnancy, even if it is of a fetus that won’t survive out of the womb, even if it is the result of rape. If a mom miscarries – not by choice – she is mistreated at hospitals, as they always assume that it was something she meant to do.

    Things are looking really bad for women down here..

    The woman in this Torres case was actually 40w, not 42w. And even though the baby was breech, natural birth would have been safer than another c-sec.

    We – the activists – are out for blood. These doctors and this judge will have to respond legally for their rushed actions. There is absolutelly NOTHING to support what was done here..

    • Ingrid says

      “You are forced to carry out the pregnancy, even if it is of a fetus that won’t survive out of the womb, even if it is the result of rape”
      Our Supreme Court have decided that if the fetus do not have a brain (so they will not survive out of the womb) we dont even have to talk about abortion cause it was decided there is no life – so you can end the pregnancy; if the pregnancy is a result of rape u can abort (the thing is some doctors refuse to do it based in their own beliefs, dont giving a flying **** to the law or to what the woman wants to do).

  5. says

    Thank you Kathi for bringing these shameful government practices to light. The more light is shed on these State violations of sovereign rights the more likely we will be able to see the realization of voluntary interactions between peaceful people that is the logical result of a stateless society. This is a War on Women, with very little difference from the societally destructive War on Drugs, War on Terror, War on Prostitution, and War on Healthcare. The State, being a monopoly on violent force over a given geographical area, has no conception of what is best for anyone, let alone mother and fetus. Once the State gets involved in any human interaction, the result is bloody and messy.

    My wife gave birth to both of our children in the water and both with the same midwife/doula combo. Our first child was birthed in a hospital with water birth facilities and was completely private and relaxing. She gave birth within ½ hour of entering the birthing tub. Our second child was birthed in an inflatable birthing pool in our living room. :-) I was there both times filming, taking pictures, and supporting any way I could. They were both magical experiences to say the least. She has told me that if we were to have a third child she would unquestionably have another home water birth. I am an Acupuncturist and Chinese Herbalist. I was giving her Chinese Herbs throughout her pregnancy to prepare her body, ensure the labor will be swift, and to help her recover afterwards. I gave her Acupuncture during the contractions to expedite labor. It is difficult to say for sure if these methods were responsible for her quick deliveries but I’m sure they did not hinder them.

    Keep up the awesome work Kathi! It is much appreciated and needed! :-)

  6. PriscillAa says

    Hi! I AM from Brasil and will try to explain the situation so you can understand better. Here, 65% in public health hospitals and 82% in private health hospitals are birth trought C -section!!!!! The doctors don’t want to wait for all the steps of the natural labor plus they want to have control over their agenda, and the health ensurance pays sooooo much better for C -sections!!!! It’s a sad sad reality , but the Brazilians women are trying to change it! Xoxo

  7. says

    Thank you so much for writing this. It is purely an issue of bodily autonomy. No one should have the right to dictate a medical procedure on anyone. It is a scary world where medical Gods are worshipped and not help responsible for the oppression they are forcing on society, especially women in such a vulnerable and transfornative time.

    I hope this woman has a strong community of activist surroundig her. I cannot even begin to imagine her trauma. The violation to her body would be like being raped by government mandate, executed by those funded by the very health care system she paid to service her (whether privately or through her taxes. ) I hope she can take her case to trial and hold all involved responsible for human rights violations.

    I have three main value I wish the world would live by. Bodily autonomy, bodily integrity, and informed choice. If we all respected these three principles the world would be a better place and women and families wouldn’t be violated.


  1. […] A formal complaint has been lodged at the Secretariat of Justice and Human Rights of the Presidency of the Republic by Artemis, a Brazilian NGO promoting women’s autonomy and the prevention and eradication of all forms of violence against women. Here, you can see their letters on Ligia Moreiras Sena’s blog. @birthrightsorg have responded with this excellent blog on obstetric violence and use of ‘risk’ to legally justify treating women’s bodies “as public objects subject to the whims of the medical profession backed by the coercive power of the state” (Birthrights, 2014). Read also @KathiValeii’s powerful and passionate blog, ‘The war on women just got bloody brutal’ at Birthanarchy […]

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