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Violence in Labor

Today is International Women’s Day, which was first celebrated in 1909. On this day of global celebration of the economic, political and social achievements of women, let us not forget the overlooked acts of violence against women that occur in hospitals under traditional medical management of pregnancy, birth and women’s health.

Please add to the list or share your experience by commenting. Once we are collectively willing to admit that unnecessary procedures on women constitute violence and violate a woman’s bodily integrity and sense of autonomy, systemic change can begin.



Performing unnecessary surgeries, procedures, inductions of labor, augmentations of labor and interventions on a laboring woman’s body is an act of violence against a woman.


Not letting a woman push until a doctor arrives is an act of violence against a woman.


Minimizing or ignoring a woman’s concerns is violence against a woman.


Creating unjustified concerns in the name of safety with the goal of coercing her into unnecessary surgery is an act of violence against a woman.


These allegations constitute violence against a woman.


Being too understaffed or just unwilling to provide one-on-one support for a laboring woman and instead encouraging her to submit to an epidural for comfort is an act of violence against a woman.


Being too understaffed or just unwilling to provide monitoring of a laboring woman’s fetal heart tones and instead tethering her to a bed for continuous electronic fetal monitoring is an act of violence against a woman.


Denying a laboring woman the freedom of movement is an act of violence against a woman.


Performing excessive vaginal exams in the name of good or defensive medicine is an act of violence against a woman.


Routine unnecessary episiotomies are violent to women.


Discouraging or denying a woman a vaginal birth after a cesarean in a hospital is an act of violence against a woman.


Subjecting pregnant women and their fetuses to experimental drugs without informing them that the risks to her and her fetus are yet unknown is an act of violence against a woman.


Promoting and propagating the myth that vaginal birth itself is a violent act against the fetus unless obstetric interventions are performed is violence against women of childbearing age and women of subsequent generations.



If you feel you were violated during pregnancy, labor or during the postpartum period, resources for help are available. Solace for Mothers is an excellent starting point.

Angie’s List now allows reviews of health care providers if you want to warn other women about your experiences or share about your care received.

If you’ve given birth within the last three years, take twenty minutes to fill out The Birth Survey, a grassroots transparency in maternity care project.



You are not alone.  Please don’t stay silent.



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Reader Comments (6)

Great post, thank you for reminding us that thousands of women are still being assaulted in the name of 'safe' birth.

I thought you might be interested in an article about birth rape that I wrote last year for a feminist website http://www.thefword.org.uk/features/2008/03/not_a_happy_bir

March 9, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterNoble Savage

Noble Savage,

Oh my gosh. That's YOU?! I read that last year.

Thank you for being here.


March 9, 2009 | Registered CommenterJill

I mentioned that I was "doing some volunteer work" for the improvement of maternity services to my grandmother (step-grandmother) yesterday, telling her briefly about the ridiculous c-section rate and that women still have to go through all kind of unnecessary procedures. I chose my words carefully because I had no idea if she had heavy anesthesia and prophylactic forceps or what. Right away, she said something about three of her births being ok, but with her third child, they forced her not to push for a long time until the doctor arrived. She was 27 years old and she's still able to recount the experience sixty years later. I secretly wish she had kicked the nurses like she told them she was going to regardless of whether or not they were just doing they job. She said she spoke up and was pissed, saying that on her third child, she should know that it is time. I think they pinned her down in the process.

I said, "You know that is considered violence against women." She exclaimed instantly, "Oh, you don't have to tell me!!"

This is not the price women should have to pay to give birth in a hospital, is it?

Interestingly, by the time her fourth and final birth rolled around in the early sixties, spinals were available. She refused one because she was just really okay with the birth process by that point.

March 9, 2009 | Registered CommenterJill

I absolutely believe that what is happening to laboring women in many cases should be considered battery. I've been reading stories around the internet where women were forced, literally FORCED into cesareans, screaming that they didn't want one, but they figure there's nothing they can do about it. I try to tell every one of them that what happened to them is actually considered, by the LAW, to be criminal assault and battery, and they can file charges against that physician.

This crap is the exact reason I cannot wait to have my law degree. I will so be going after stuff like this.

March 11, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterTheFeministBreeder

Personally, I think the reason more OBs are not charged with battery and sex crimes for what's going on during L&D is the same reason most women don't report their rapes. I think the last good estimate, but don't quote me on it, is that out of the 1 in 4 women who are sexually assaulted, only 1 in ten report the assault. Very good odds if you're the rapist.

So, if a woman experiences sexual assault at the hands of medical staff, the question is how much more unlikely is it that she will report the incident(s)? There would be the same elements of trauma, guilt, shame, fear, and the added element of going up against - gasp! - a highly respected member of the community, not to mention that she may be dissuaded by family and friends devaluing her experience and autonomy. Plus, if there was extensive physical trauma to herself or her baby, there would be a period of time which was naturally and necessarily focused on healing. And, if there was PTSD or PPD involved, it could make it even harder to process the experience, and subsequently seek redress.

The odds are stacked against the reporting of any type of sexual assault, much less those occurring during L&D, and it's because of this silence that these crims are getting away with it. If women only realized just how good standing up for yourself, even after the fact, feels, we'd have more complaints and lawsuits filed, and more illegal practitioners out of the wards.

March 11, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAnon

I have been reading your site for a few days and nights straight. I think about my first birth, though not as traumatic as many I have read, there were definite elements of this. When my doctor threatened me with a c-section during active labor, I thought that was abusive! I gave birth to my daughter a few minutes later, vaginally. I basically told him flat out NO, so what is the plan here? Fortunately it didn't go on much longer or I would have been one of those ladies screaming on the way to the OR. It freaks me out to think about it!

Going with a midwife and free standing birthing center this time around! I go in there preparing to defend myself and my decisions and getting all tense, and then when I get there it is a nurturing caring environment. I am still keyed up from the first birth where I had to defend myself a lot!

Can you add to the list also that it is a violence to drag a woman through the dirt (figuratively, not literally) because she had unexpected weight gain? In pregnancy you will have at least one month where you have extra weight and you didn't sit at home eating bonbons! Lay off us women, please!

April 10, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRebecca C.
This blog is all done!
Thanks for wanting to comment. This is an archive of a blog that once was. Take care! Jill