International Women’s Day has been around since the early 1900s, starting out as a platform for women’s suffrage. But even today, women’s rights to birth their own baby how, where, and with whom they choose are trampled, ignored, and violated.
This year’s Women’s Day theme, established by the UN, is “Equality for women is progress for all.” Past years have addressed rape and violence toward women, workplace equality, education, and poverty. While this theme is a nice concept, and great strides have been made, it is clear that there is still far to go. I have long said, “the most oppressed group in America is birthing women, and most of them don’t even know it.” Examples of the rights of birthing women being violated are numerous. Birth Action reports regularly on such violations.
A Florida woman was told that she must submit to a repeat C-section or Child Protective Services would be called to take away her first-born child (Rumpelstiltskin, anyone?)
An Italian woman had her baby taken away from her for refusing a c-section, which they did anyway.
A mother in Virginia was forbidden by state regulations to have a Certified Professional Midwife attend her birth at home, because she was deemed too obese.
An Alabama mother was slapped by a nurse when she cried out in labor.
Women have been court-ordered to have c-sections. Usually after they were subjected to unwanted major surgery, the court decisions were overturned. But the damage had been done.
And midwives are arrested for serving mothers who choose to birth at home.
Yet Women’s Day is supposed to be a celebration of women and of freedom and equality. In Russia, it is common for women to receive flowers and numerous compliments on Women’s Day. In Italy, women receive yellow mimosas from men. Portuguese women celebrate by attending “Women’s Only” dinners and parties on the evening of March 8. Rallies and demonstrations are also a tradition in many parts of the world.
But how can women be considered to be treated equal when their right to own their own biological processes is preempted by laws, or organizations like ACOG, the AMA, or even MANA? Why do organizations and governments have the right to tell women that they cannot use their own birth canals for the purpose that they were biologically designed? I would argue that that they don’t.
Pregnant mothers have committed no crime, and thus should not have any of their inherent rights taken away from them. Yet modern practices often treat them like criminals, restricting their movement and limiting food and drink. They are coerced into procedures that they neither want nor need, and are often threatened when they do not submit. It is common practice for women to be violated in a number of ways when giving birth, so much so that it is hardly questioned. Those who resist are quickly squelched whenever possible.
Women, even when giving birth, have the inalienable rights to life and liberty. No government gave women those rights. They simply secure or acknowledge (or ignore) rights that people already have as human beings. The Bill of Rights of the US Constitution secures the rights to be secure in one’s person and freedom of religion. For some, birthing on their terms actually IS a religious issue. It is time that the rights that women already have by virtue of being human are recognized and embraced. It is time that we trust women to birth their own babies on their terms.
So let’s celebrate Women’s Day – every day. And let’s begin by acknowledging that most basic of women’s rights: the right to birth where, with whom, and how they wish.