Legal Briefing: Unwanted Cesareans and Obstetric Violence


Thaddeus Mason Pope


A capacitated pregnant woman has a nearly unqualified right to refuse a cesarean section. Her right to say “no” takes precedence over clinicians’ preferences and even over clinicians’ concerns about fetal health. Leading medical societies, human rights organizations, and appellate courts have all endorsed this principle. Nevertheless, clinicians continue to limit reproductive liberty by forcing and coercing women to have unwanted cesareans. This “Legal Briefing” reviews recent court cases involving this type of obstetric violence. I have organized these court cases into the following six categories:

1.    Epidemic of Unwanted Cesareans

2.    Court-Ordered Cesareans

3.    Physician-Coerced Cesareans

4.    Physician-Ordered Cesareans

5.    Cesareans for Incapacitated Patients

6.    Cesareans for Patients in a Vegetative State or Who Are Brain Dead




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