The uneasy relationship between pro-life and anti-home birth rhetoric

There is an umbrella term for issues of abortion, birth control, and maternity care. “Reproductive rights”. Lumping these three topics together can make it very hard to have a meaningful conversation about the ethics of any specific obstetric or gynecological practice.

The way that home birth communities superficially appeal to feminism is something that contributed to my choosing an out of hospital birth provider. Con artists are skilled at  figuring out what selling point will work on any particular mark.

There were a lot of things that turned me off about anti-home birth web pages when I was doing initial research on maternity care. Certain phrases or arguments served as a  dog whistle to pro-choice feminists like myself. An abortion and a home birth are very different situations, but its hard not to have a knee jerk reaction to phrases like “The baby didn’t get to choose.”

An abortion is usually performed at 8 weeks (medicinally induced abortions can be initiated earlier). A fetus that was aborted was either not wanted or could not be adequately cared for if carried to term.

A home birth baby is very much wanted.

These are obvious differences that everyone knows. It is very difficult to let go of the dehumanization that women face when confronted with anti-choice rhetoric. The message is clear, over and over again: the woman matters less than the contents of her uterus. Its unfair, extremely unfair, especially in the case of elective abortion. Anything that even sounds like that makes me cringe, and that tendency caused a blind spot for me while researching home birth.

The mothers of home birth babies generally want them to arrive safely. They are overwhelmingly white, middle to upper class, and college educated. Outside of domestic violence and other outliers it would be hard to say that home birth mothers are forced into their pregnancies.

Talking about the rights of the baby to arrive safely means talking about what their mother is choosing as well.  There are some women who seem to think that having a home birth is more important than having a live baby, and it is a disturbing reminder of how disparate these issues are from abortion rights.  Virtually no one could condone the conduct of women who loved their home birth experience when their baby didn’t make it.

I am absolutely not arguing for revoking a pregnant woman’s right to refuse treatment or tests. That is a human right that everyone has.  That is not usually what is at stake in home births. Most home birthers are convinced that it is inherently better to have a natural birth at home, or that it is actually as safe (perhaps safer) than having a baby at a hospital. Most women choose home birth because they want a positive outcome, and have been lead to believe that home birth is the best way to accomplish it. Speaking about the babies that pay the price for misinformation is not at all at odds with what most pregnant women desire from birth. These women are being lied to. Just as crisis pregnancy centers twist facts about abortion to try to convince women of taking one specific path, midwives will twist information to make a home birth seem safer. By pushing for legislation to reign in home birth midwifery we are protecting a vulnerable population from predators.

 

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