As a libertarian, I consider the right to own oneself the foundational right of liberty. I often call myself “pro-choice on everything!” Of course, “pro-choice” has a very particular meaning in mainstream society, specifically related to the right to have an abortion. I’m a very vocal advocate for that right.
But what happens when a woman chooses to give birth? As a pro-choice advocate, I have always emphasized the need to be able to make the choice: to terminate or keep. Once you’ve made that choice to keep, I’ve pretty much assumed a woman just goes about her pregnancy and birth however she desires.
I’m becoming increasingly aware that there are many more choices to make, and ways that society steps in, to impose upon what women do with their bodies and their babies. Pregnant women ask for help from others to discourage strangers from coming up to them at random to touch their bellies asking personal questions. People constantly give unsolicited advice or harshly criticize the pregnancy and parenting decisions of others, to the extent that they call it “Mommy Wars.” Thankfully, these examples are only social dynamics, and some other mother doesn’t get to legally decide whether another does home/hospital birth, or chooses breastfeeding/formula.
Then there’s law. This spring in Tennessee, a law was passed to allow the state to criminally prosecute new mothers who used drugs while pregnant resulting in a baby born with “addiction” or injury. This is not the only law of its kind, as all over the country, pregnant women increasingly face criminal prosecution for positive drug tests. These invasions of privacy may be well-intended, but they have problematic consequences. Where do babies go when their mothers are serving time for drug “assault” charges? The state decides. Pregnant women who are afraid they’ll get in trouble for their addictions are less likely to seek help for them or get pre-natal care at all, putting themselves and their babies at even more risk for life-threatening complications.
Then there are women who haven’t done anything wrong, except to have an opinion about what they want to happen to their bodies while they’re bringing new life into this world.
Jennifer Goodall received a letter in early July from her intended birth hospital in Florida that informed her that her doctors were seeking a court order to perform a cesarean surgery on her “with or without her consent” if she went to that hospital. They were also planning to report her to the Department of Child & Family Services if she didn’t comply. Their reason? She wanted to try having a vaginal birth.
Now, the reason the doctors advised against having a vaginal birth was because she’d previously had cesarean births and there are numerous risks that occur when following one with the other. There are perfectly legitimate reasons to, as a medically licensed doctor, advise your patients against things you think are a bad idea. But, with or without her consent? A federal judge ruled in favor of the hospital when she filed a complaint.
You wouldn’t see this happening if she had cancer and refused chemotherapy, or if she had endometriosis and refused a hysterectomy. When there’s a baby, though, suddenly a woman’s right is… disregarded.
Cue my outrage.
I’m a staunch advocate for the right to choose an abortion, but the choices don’t stop there. Whether it’s seeking help for drug addiction while pregnant or wanting a “natural birth,” women will have numerous decisions to make, and force should not be part of the equation. No person should ever hear they’ll be forced to undergo a medical procedure “with or without your consent.” Jennifer Goodall ultimately went to another hospital which respected her wishes to attempt to have a vaginal birth. After she was unable to deliver vaginally, she had a consensual c-section and a healthy baby boy.
Your body is your own. You own it. You choose.