The clinical opinion related to planned home birth by Chervenak et al requires a midwifery response.
Home birth is a complex choice that includes the rights of women over their bodies; these rights do not go away because health professionals or governments ban them. The authors suggest that women’s rights should be superseded by the clinician’s obligation to protect the pregnant woman and the “fetal, neonatal patient.” This paternalistic discourse privileges the baby’s rights over that of the woman’s. Any risk to the baby’s health dominates with woman’s rights and risks to the woman’s health subjugated. A civilized society considers women to be more than just vessels to grow babies. To postulate that women’s opinions, concerns, and intelligent consideration for their own health and their baby’s health should be superseded by an obstetrician is unacceptable. The argument by Chervenak et al that a woman’s right to make decisions and control what happens to her body is a “purely contractual model” and “rights reductionism” is contrary to the human rights movement. The United States, as a signatory to the Convention for Elimination of Discrimination against Women, recognizes this important principle.
The authors assume that hospital birth and obstetric intervention will confer improved safety and better outcomes but the US cesarean section rate has increased far more than its rate of decreasing perinatal mortality and the United States is one of the few developed countries with increasing maternal mortality, yet <1% of the maternity population birth at home. Caution needs to be taken when discussing safety and safer care; until such a time as there is no mortality or morbidity associated with childbirth, no one can promise complete safety regardless of birth setting.
Women worldwide cite the loss of personal autonomy and increasing use of interventions in hospital birth as unsafe for both them and their babies and see this as an unacceptable risk. When this is put in the context of comparable perinatal outcomes for the baby many women consider that hospital birth provides an increased risk with few benefits for them.
If women are supported, listened to, and provided with information they will make decisions based on the best outcome for them and their baby. Health professionals providing maternity services should be seeking to provide safe, woman-centered care for all women regardless of where they choose to birth.