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Legal Rights of Pregnant Women

If there is one thing I have noticed since becoming pregnant with my first child and actively working in the childbirth community… it is the fact that most women do not know all of their rights as a pregnant woman.

Contrary to popular belief, pregnancy does not make us all the perfect patient, and we do not have to listen to every last demand, test or suggestion of procedure our provider presents us with. In such a hostile birthing climate, these are rights that all pregnant women should know to help protect themselves and get the best care possible during pregnancy.

Much of the information below has been taken from various places on the internet including the legal rights of pregnant women from the International Cesarean Awareness Network, and the Childbirth Connection’s rights of childbearing women.

  • The consent of a competent woman’s husband is never required for her treatment. No matter what anyone tells you, the mother is always the authority in her care unless she is unable to make informed decisions about her care.
  • Women have a right to have another woman present during a physical examination. Whether this be a sister, doula, mother or partner.
  • Women can refuse to be examined to treated by anyone. If you do not like a certain nurse, doctor, or provider, you do not have to be seen by them simply because they maybe the “on call” at the hospital for the evening or there are “no other nurses” available at that time.
  • Women have the right to have the father of the child, or any other advocate, present during childbirth and delivery. Whether this be a doula, or family member.
  • Pregnant women have the right to refuse any medical treatment or drug including a cesarean section, episiotomy, anesthesia, induction drugs, or pain medication. Remember, all medical choices do need your consent.
  • A woman has a right to change her mind about any decision made before or during labor or child birth. Sometimes things do not go as planned, or as we would have liked so having back up ideas, or plans or simply changing your mind is alright.
  • Every woman has the right to health care, before, during, and after pregnancy and childbirth.
  • Every woman has the right to receive current information based on scientific evidence regarding various forms of treatment.
  • Women have the right to choose not only their own provider, and the type of provider they want to see, but they also have the right to choose their birth setting whether it be home, a childbirth center, or a hospital.
  • All women have the right to know the professional identity, as well as qualifications of all involved in her care.
  • Women have the right to communicate with their providers, as well as receive their care in privacy.
  • Every woman has the right to leave a maternity care provider she does not feel comfortable with, and take up care with another practice. (This one is most important to me because I see many women who stay with providers just because they don’t feel as though they can change.)
  • Every woman has the right to unrestricted access to her own medical records.
  • Women always have the right to receive medical care that is up to the standards of her religious or cultural background.
  • Every woman has the freedom of movement during labor.
  • All mothers have the right to uninterrupted contact with their newborn.

Of course there are a lot more resources and information on the two links provided, but I think that these are by far the most important. Especially for pregnant and birthing women today.  Remember, being educated is always key in having quality maternity care and the best outcome possible for yourself and your baby!

photo: flickr.com/steakpinball

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