The morally grotesque campaign for human rights in childbirth

Suppose you read about an upcoming conference on human rights in childbirth. Since you are interested in making sure that all women have access to competent medical care, without regard for ability to pay, that incarcerated women not be forced to labor in chains, and that women have access to birth control, you decide to attend.

When you get there you find, to your surprise and dismay, that the conference has nothing to do with providing access to medical care for women and their babies who are suffering and dying without it. Instead, you learn that the organizers of the conference believe the “human rights” problem in contemporary childbirth care is that women who have excellent access to healthcare have no access to manicurists during labor. The organizers of the conference, most of whom are manicurists, believe that manicures enhance the hospital experience, empower women who are feeling disempowered, and, most importantly, lead to better patient outcomes.

Regardless of how sincerely manicurists might believe that manicures help women in labor, claiming that manicures are a “human right” is morally grotesque. A manicure is an extravagance, appealing only to women who have no concern about accessing safe, effective healthcare and there is no evidence that it improves care or leads to better outcomes in childbirth.

We would recognize this for what it was; a cynical effort by manicurists to line their own pockets by increasing demand (and payment) for their services by appropriating the language of human rights.

A conference on human rights in childbirth that concentrates on providing homebirth is every bit as morally grotesque as a campaign for human rights in childbirth that demands manicures during labor.

Indeed, framing homebirth as a human rights issue betrays the real focus of the homebirth movement: white, Western, well-off women who can pay homebirth midwives, doulas and childbirth educators.

Homebirth is an extravagance on par with manicures with an important difference: manicures don’t increase the risk of perinatal death, but homebirth does.

The website One World Birth and it’s film Freedom For Birth makes the same morally grotesque claim.

What’s the film about?

In 2010, Hungarian obstetrician and midwife Dr Agnes Gereb was arrested and imprisoned for supporting women in homebirth.

Although it is legal for mothers to give birth at home in Hungary, any medical professional (without a special license) who helps those women can be criminally charged…

The price Agnes paid for going against the system was to be found guilty of “endangering life in the conduct of her professional work”. She was sentenced to two years in prison. Earlier this year, the court of appeal doubled the suspension period of her medical and midwifery licenses to 10 years..

The criminalisation of midwifery isn’t just confined to Hungary. In the US, Australia and other countries around the world, many midwives have been arrested and charged. Many leading experts claim there’s an international witch-hunt against midwives.

But this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to injustice and denial of women’s human and civil rights.

As birth increasingly becomes seen as a “medical event”, so women have frequently been denied the right to decide the circumstances and location of where and how they give birth.

Now it’s time women took back those rights.

Who is behind the website and film?

I know you will be shocked, shocked to find that it is a white, Western, well off woman who had [cue the violins] an emergency C-section which resulted in nothing more than a healthy baby.

ONE WORLD BIRTH was co-founded by two filmmakers, myself (Toni Harman) and my partner (Alex Wakeford).

We were inspired to create ONE WORLD BIRTH after the difficult birth of our daughter four years ago, an all too familiar story of a cascade of interventions that led to an emergency c-section.

And how does Toni Harman would know whether or not her C-section was necessary and whether it was the result of a cascade of interventions? No doubt her “research” at Google University made her eminently qualified to make that determination..

We thought we could use our skills as filmmakers to make birth better around the world.

So over the past 18 months, we have self-funded our filming (helped by some wonderful contributions from previous Indiegogo campaigns) and travelled from the UK, to France, Canada, the USA and most recently to Hungary. We have filmed interviews with over 100 of the world’s leading birth experts (Sheila Kitzinger, Ina May Gaskin, Michel Odent, plus dozens of academics, OB/GYN’s, midwives, doulas, campaigners).

Strange that the only people who consider those frauds “experts” is themselves. And what has their contribution been to improving access to maternal and perinatal health care world wide? Oops, they haven’t made any contributions of the kind. To the extent that homebirth proponents have affected the death rates, it is only to increase them.

How will the film make make birth better around the world?.

Will it save the lives of any of the hundreds of thousands of women and babies who die EACH YEAR for lack of lifesaving obstetric care? No, of course not.

When One World Birth talks about making the “world” better for birth they mean making the white, Western, wealthy, technologically developed “world” better for birth.

Will it improve safety for those white, Western, wealthy women who already have easy access to obstetric interventions? No, of course not.

When One World Birth talks about making the world “better” for birth, they  mean improving the birth experience for those white, Western, wealthy women.

Who will gain the most from making birth better around the world?

Funny, you should ask. The people who would experience the biggest improvement are white, Western, wealthy midwives, doulas and childbirth educators.

Proving, as if more proof were needed, that framing homebirth as a human rights issue is every bit as morally grotesque as framing manicures in labor as a human rights issue.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m happy that we live in a world where childbirth is so safe, and access to life-saving care is so easy, that women like Toni are free to pretend that a birth experience is a human right and that a C-section that yields nothing more than a healthy baby is a tragedy. But that pretending turns very ugly indeed when extremely privileged women like are so cut off from the ugly reality of childbirth in the developing world that they think they are making the world “better for birth” by prioritizing the needs of extremely privileged white women over those of anyone else.

We should recognize the claim of homebirth as a human right for what it is: a cynical attempt by homebirth midwives, doulas and childbirth educators to line their own pockets,  increasing demand (and payment) for their services by appropriating the language of human rights. It is morally grotesque and they should be ashamed of themselves.