Birth And Human Rights

“We are completely lost and we have forgotten to raise the most simple questions. What are the basic needs of women in labor? The fact that midwives have disappeared is a symptom of the lack of understanding of the basic needs of women in labor.”
Dr. Michel Odent, OB/GYN 

What are human rights?  How do human rights apply to maternity care? 
As directly stated by the Respectful Maternity Care Charter:

Do I have a right to make choices about my care?
“Yes. Women have the right to make their own choices about how they manage their pregnancy and birth.

Every human being has human rights. Human rights protect your dignity, your privacy,
your equality and your autonomy (your control over your own life). Human rights require public bodies to treat you with dignity, consult you about certain decisions and respect your choices.”

Why are human rights relevant to maternity care?
The fundamental human rights values of dignity, privacy, equality and autonomy are often relevant to the way a woman is treated during pregnancy and childbirth. Failure to provide adequate maternity care, lack of respect for women’s dignity, invasions of privacy, procedures carried out without consent, failure to provide adequate pain relief without medical contraindication, giving pain relief where it is not requested, unnecessary or unexplained medical interventions, and lack of respect for women’s choices about where and how a birth takes place, may all violate human rights and can lead to women feeling degraded and dehumanized.

What are your rights in pregnancy and childbirth? As stated in the Respectful Maternity Care Charter at the White Ribbon Alliance, it’s simple:

• Every woman has a right to receive safe and appropriate maternity care.
Every woman has a right to maternity care that respects her fundamental human dignity.
Every woman has a right to privacy and confidentiality.
Every woman is free to make choices about her own pregnancy and childbirth, even if her caregivers do not agree with her.
Every woman has a right to equality and freedom from discrimination.

Violations of Human Rights in Childbirth
Examples of violations include, but are not limited to:

  • Inability to access needed care
  • Denial of informed consent and refusal
  • Experiencing discrimination or unequal treatment
  • Being threatened or bullied into compliance
  • Having an intervention or procedure imposed on you against your will
  • Being punished for exercising your rights to make decisions about yourself or your baby
  • Denial of care or abandonment by your provider or the healthcare system

Children’s economic and social conditions can directly affect their health.
Family income and education, neighborhood resources, and other social and economic factors affect health at every stage of life—but the effects on young children are particularly dramatic, 15 to 20 years of accumulated research shows. Those early years have the potential to set us on paths leading toward—or away from—good health.

What’s more, the impact of these opportunities and obstacles, along with their health impacts, accumulate over time and can be transmitted across generations as children grow up and become parents themselves. In other words, social disadvantages in childhood—such as chronic stress—can lead to health disadvantages in adulthood.

All parents want the best for their children, but not all parents have the same resources to help their children grow up healthy. Parents’ education and income levels can create—or limit—opportunities to provide their children with nurturing and stimulating environments and to model healthy behaviors.

This issue brief explains in detail how economic and social conditions can directly influence child development, shaping their health throughout their lives. It also considers what can be done to help vulnerable children, based on the evidence of interventions that have been shown to work.

For more information on birth rights go to