Citation: 106 Geo L.J. (2018)
Maternity care in the United States is in a state of crisis, characterized by high cesarean rates, poor performance on various mortality and morbidity measures, and a steep price tag. There are many factors that impede access to high-quality, evidence-based maternity care for certain women. Grassroots organizers have raised awareness about the extent to which giving birth in the United States has become overly medicalized. Perhaps less widely known, however, is the extent to which women experience abuse, coercion, and disrespect while giving birth.
Inspired by activists in Latin America, advocates in the United States have begun to adopt the language of “obstetric violence” to describe and condemn such mistreatment. However, the existing research on obstetric violence is limited, which complicates the task of defining the problem and identifying solutions. To that end, this Article explores the profound mistreatment that some women experience during childbirth at the hands of their health care providers. It identifies various types of provider behavior that qualify as obstetric violence and paints a broad picture of how childbirth can be a damaging experience for some women, even when they leave the hospital with a healthy baby. Having developed a nuanced view of provider mistreatment and its implications, this Article then examines the current failure of law and regulation to provide meaningful prevention or recourse. It concludes by suggesting forms of advocacy within the legal and health care systems that offer promising approaches to shifting maternity care culture and, ultimately, to securing necessary changes in the tort system for women harmed by provider mistreatment during childbirth.