Monday, September 24, 2007

The Value of Pregnant Women

This article, The Rights of "Unborn Children" and the Value of Pregnant Women, is a fascinating analysis of the implications of the 2004 Unborn Victims of Violence Act. The authors find that the growing emphasis on fetus' rights often erodes pregnant women's rights. They note the fallacies between characterizing maternal-fetal relationships as inherently conflictual. After all, who can better advocate for the unborn than the babies' own mothers? The authors conclude that in our current legal and political climate, mothers are "beatified in words and villified in deeds."


  1. Hi Rixa,

    Just found your blog, but I have already heard of your PhD work from birth circles. ;) I am excited you have a blog! However, I must say that the article you have linked to is pretty poor in my opinion. This is over a week old, so you may not even read this comment but I still felt compelled to respond. Sorry this is lengthy!

    I must preface this by saying I have no idea how you feel on this issue, but I can only guess that you somewhat agree with the article since you linked it. Whether or not you do is not the issue. Again, I felt compelled to point out some of the erroneous beliefs proposed by the authors.

    Some points of contention:
    1) The authors refer to Unborn Pain Awareness act as "scientifically dubious". I would challenge what part of that is dubious? Whether or not unborn children feel pain? Newborn babies feel pain. Babies in utero also feel pain once their neurological system and pain receptors are at a certain level of development. So what is uncertain?
    2) Authors classify the "most fervent of fetal proponents" as pregnant women. I would argue that this is true for some and very untrue for others. I have seen many pregnant women who are quite indifferent to their babies and don't care much about the side effects of some labor/birthing drugs or interventions with potential harm to their babies as long as they are comfortable, or the drug/intervention is what *they* want. Thus, I would not always rely on humans to always put another person (namely, the baby) first.
    3) The fact that they put "right" in quotes when next to "fetal 'right'" indicates the authors already have a bias, which is that they do not buy into the idea of unborn children having "rights" at all. Hence, anything they are writing about the topic is going to be tainted with their objective. It is clear to me they are either supporters of abortion or accepting of the practice. How can they maintain an objective view of the issue with that slant?
    4) In terms of forsaking women high-paying jobs b/c of lead exposure. I do think women should have had the right to sign a waiver stating they were accepting the risk of lead exposure. But lead is a very, very bad thing for children. Don't you think it is a good thing to fully inform women of those risks??
    5) The issue of forced cesareans has more to do with doctor convenience and desire to maintain a position of power in doctor-patient relationship than it is about fetal rights. The baby's rights are simply a mask that is used to disguise the issue of wanting to be in control of a patient's healthcare.
    6) In terms of costing women their liberty in cases of drug use and imprisonment, what would you think of a case where a mother was intentionally giving alcohol to her 3 month old baby in its bottle? Or a mother who infused her child's veins with heroin? Why would these scenarios be worse simply b/c the child is now on the outside of her body? Having grown up w/ an alcoholic and drug-addicted mother, I am very aware of the disease of addiction. However, that does not make my mother's actions or choices right nor excusable.
    7) The article talks about how when you elevate fetal rights, you automatically lower the woman's. Then the opposite also holds true. If we are going to elevate the rights of pregnant women and say they can do anything they want while pregnant, we are in effect, negating any rights of their unborn baby. This then has the potential to carry over to mothers in general, who have a child of any age. Again, I would point to the example above. Does that mean that mothers have the right to give their children marijauna when they are having a hyper day and mom is stressed out? Do I get to tranquilize my 3 year old when he is having a day full of melt downs simply b/c I am frazzled and need to unwind???
    8) As someone who has had a cesarean and a VBAC, I think the analogy of forced cesarean versus a transplant doesn't hold water. While I think c/sections (ESPECIALLY forced) are horrific, it is not taking a needed organ from the pregnant woman. She will survive with her baby on the outside. She may have countless emotional and physical wounds to heal, but she can and WILL survive. The transplant in question is taking a needed organ, essential for optimal functioning in a body from another individual. The two are not the same.
    9) The point about discussing pain and doctors choosing HOW to counsel patient is again an issue of informed consent. NOBODY wants to talk about the fact that baby boys feel pain in circumcision b/c then the parents may feel guilty about having the procedure done. So what? If they are making a permanent and life-altering choice, they should and need to have ALL the facts and potential risks (e.g. impaired penile function) no matter how unpleasant they are to listen to. We are adults, so let's get all the facts and not treat us as children b/c there may be some unpleasantries mixed into a procedure we are considering.
    10) They openly name a "right-to-life" agenda, but don't name a right to kill an unborn baby agenda.
    11) I also think they totally shoot any credibility they did have by stating that the maternal-fetal rights should not be in conflict. And YET, THE ENTIRE ARTICLE MENTIONS ALL OF THESE CONFLICTS IN DETAIL! You can't have it both ways. Either they are in some sort of conflict or they are not.
    12) Physicians concerns with pregnant women are inherently diluted b/c they are seeing two patients and not just one. I have heard multiple obstetricians talk about that struggle b/c they have to consider mom's needs/wants AND her baby's, which aren't always in accord.
    13) By limiting the fetal rights only to the ones who conceive, bear and raise them, sets us up for some HUGE pitfalls as a society. So if I deem it appropriate to use aggressive physical punishment with my child, that is my right since I conceived, bore and raised this child. If I feel only 3 small meals are needed for my children and they are still hungry, or may be malnourished, then that is okay b/c their "rights" have been limited, or superceded, by mine. Where is the logic in that?

    Again, sorry for the mass comment. Articles like this get me riled up. ;)


  2. Shannon,
    Thanks for your length and thoughtful comments. I definitely agree with you on many points.

    What the authors were trying to convey (and remember, they work for an organization that protects pregnant women's rights) is that the legal ramifications of certain laws or policies can infringe upon pregnant women's rights and autonomy. I don't think they're using this to explicitly argue for abortion (although it's true that you can see some of that language in the subtext) but rather to protect pregnant women from losing their full autonomy.

    The cesarean-transplant example isn't meant to be an analogy (there is no analogous situation to pregnancy), but an argument that there is no legal precedent for forcing someone to have surgery, no matter how pressing the other party might need it. I find it extremely distressing that women's legal rights disappear under court-ordered obstetrical interventions. (And the transplant case was over an organ that could be taken out without killing the donor, such as a kidney).

    The most pressing issue in this article is: if some women make bad choices for their pregnancies, does that give the state the right or authority to overrule all pregnant women's legal rights? Who has the right to decide who makes a fit parent? This is certainly applicable to parents who make less-than-mainstream choice such as home birth. Most people see that as selfish, irresponsible, and dangerous. Who gets to decide what is right and what is not? What is dangerous and what is not?

    Many thanks for your comments!


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