10 Important Medical Rights Pregnant People Have in the Hospital and During Birth
The fight for reproductive rights has primarily focused on safe and legal abortion. But abortion is just one component of this important social justice movement. Pregnant people often find that doctors ignore their wishes and needs. You have a right to control your own body, even when you’re pregnant. And it’s critical to ask questions, since the U.S. has the highest maternal mortality rate in the wealthy world, and medical errors are common. You need to be prepared to question your doctors and assert your desires. Here are 10 important medical rights pregnant women have when they give birth or are hospitalized for pregnancy-related issues.
The Right to Ask Questions
You do not have to let a doctor rush you, and do not have to consent to any treatment which you do not fully understand. Don’t let a doctor pressure you, or feel like you are being annoying for asking questions. You are the customer. Ask as many questions as you need to to understand what’s happening. If your doctor can’t or won’t answer your questions, it’s time to find someone else.
The Right to Treatment
Sadly, there is no right to prenatal care, though most pregnant people are eligible for Medicaid. You do, however, have a right to emergency care. That means if you show up to a hospital in labor, they have to treat you. They also have to treat you if you have a serious emergency such as dangerously high blood pressure. So if your doctor “fires” you or you can’t afford prenatal care, don’t let this deter you from getting the emergency care you need.
The Right to Decline Care
Informed consent and refusal are fundamental rights that the Supreme Court has ruled are protected by the U.S. Constitution. You have the right to fully understand all care your doctor recommends, and to decline any procedures you do not want, even if your doctor says they are medically necessary. The right to say no does not end with pregnancy.
The Right to Request Different Care or a Different Provider
You don’t have to accept care from a specific provider. In a hospital setting, you might not be able to choose your provider, but you can send any provider you do not like out of the room and request someone else.
The Right to Leave
You are not a prisoner when you give birth or stay in the hospital. You can leave against medical advice–though of course, it’s not always safe or wise to do so, so you should consider transferring to a different provider if you feel you are being mistreated. It is a myth that insurance won’t cover care if you leave against medical advice.
The Right to Wear Your Own Clothes
It might seem like a small thing to wear your own clothes, but studies have shown that the hospital gown changes how patients feel, and tips the balance of power. Unless you are going in for surgery, you can wear your own clothes. Lots of companies even make pretty delivery gowns that allow access to all your parts, without exposing you or compromising your dignity.
The Right to View Your Medical Records
Your medical records are your legal property. Your doctor can’t stop you from viewing them. And now, thanks to a newly passed federal law, your doctor also has to let you view treatment notes. If your doctor refuses your request to view your records, or doesn’t respond within a month, you may be able to file a complaint with your state licensing board.
The Right to Document Everything
Most states are single-party recording states, which means that you do not have to have permission to record your conversations with a doctor. Click here for a list of states where you do need permission. Recording every interaction, including by recording your birth, can protect you if a doctor mistreats you or injures you. If your state does not allow single-party recording, ask your doctor if you can record anyway. If they say no, this is a significant red flag.
The Right to a Vaginal Birth
At least half of C-sections in the United States are medically unnecessary, and each C-section increases the risk of serious complications. C-sections play a major role in maternal mortality. So while they can save your life, they can also take it. You have the right to decline a C-section, and a doctor cannot force you to have one without a court order. Courts will only order C-sections if you are deemed incompetent, and the doctor can identify a clear, specific threat to the life of the baby. Otherwise, you can not show up for surgery, and show up in labor; the hospital has to treat you.
The Right to Give Birth How You Want
You own your body. You have a right to give birth however you want–in the position of your choosing, pushing when you are ready, and in the way that feels most comfortable to you. Doctors and midwives are medical experts, but they do not control what you do with your body. No is a complete sentence. You can use it freely even when giving birth.