5 People You Shouldn’t Listen to About Your Rights in Childbirth
“My doctor told me I’m not allowed to have a vaginal birth after a C-section.”
“My hospital says women have to have continuous fetal monitoring.”
“An advocate online told me I have an absolute right to decline every medical procedure for my baby, no matter what.”
They’re familiar refrains in birthing groups and online. They’re also misleading, and potentially dangerous. Advice about your rights when giving birth is legal advice. You wouldn’t go to a lawyer seeking a prescription for an ear infection or a biopsy of a suspicious mole. So why would you go to a non-lawyer for legal advice?
Here are five people who might try to give you legal advice about your rights when giving birth—and why you shouldn’t listen to them.
Your Doctor or Midwife
Medical providers know how to interpret medical evidence and make medical recommendations. They aren’t legal experts. So when a provider tells you you’re “not allowed” to do something, don’t listen. They’re giving legal advice, not medical advice. That legal advice may be colored by factors that have nothing to do with your rights or medical needs: the provider’s preference, hospital policy, convenience, a misunderstanding of what the law says, and more.
When birthing people refuse medical procedures, some doctors bring in hospital administrators. The goal here is to convince the person in labor that they have to do something because an authority figure told them to. Hospital administrators are not experts on pregnant people’s birthing rights. Their job is to protect the interests of the hospital and doctor. They are not the final word on what you can and cannot do.
When hospital administrators are unable to convince women to consent to something, some hospitals bring out the big guns: hospital lawyers. After all, the reasoning goes, lawyers are experts on the law, and women must listen when lawyers tell them what they’re allowed to do. That reasoning is flawed. The lawyer represents the hospital, not you. Their job is to carry out the hospital’s wishes and, if necessary, to fight on the hospital’s behalf in court. Lawyers disagree all the time. The fact that a lawyer tells you something does not make it true. That’s doubly true when that lawyer is hired specifically to advocate against your rights and for the rights of the hospital.
It’s tempting to believe people who seem to have our best interests at heart. Whether it’s a stranger on a message board or a family member, the fact that someone wants to be helpful does not mean you can trust them. Even if they cite a study, link to a court case, or can quote the law, the reality of your rights is almost always much more complicated than the pithy pronouncements of a well-meaning advice-giver. That’s especially true if they tell you that you don’t have a right to do something or to decline a procedure, because you almost always do.
Anyone Who Is Not Your Lawyer
Your rights when giving birth depend on numerous factors, two of which are especially critical: the law as it is written and the way the courts have interpreted the law. The latter is called precedent. In Georgia, there’s very little legal precedent governing birthing people’s rights. This means determining which rights you have in which scenarios can be difficult. Moreover, in some situations the law might not be clear or settled.
This means that if you’re facing the threat of court involvement, you need a lawyer who knows the exact facts of your case, as well as the law in Georgia. A lawyer in another state can’t help. And even a seasoned expert in Georgia is useless if they don’t know the facts of your case. So if you’re facing a true emergency, you need a lawyer. It is the only way to level the playing field and protect your rights.
The law is a complicated beast. Your rights when giving birth vary depend on where you’re giving birth, as well as factors such as your medical history. In Georgia, you have a right to decline medical procedures. A hospital or doctor cannot force you to undergo treatment without a court order. But the law on this is rarely cut and dry. To learn more about your rights giving birth in Georgia, visit our Know Your Rights page.