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What is Obstetric Violence?

Obstetric violence is many things and it can look like:

  • Physical abuse
  • Sexual abuse
  • Verbal abuse and bullying
  • Coercion
  • Having procedures done without consent
  • Having procedures done against your will
  • Ignoring a labouring person’s questions
  • Belittling the labouring person’s preferences
  • Pressuring someone to get an epidural
  • Use of physical force
  • Bans on vaginal birth
  • Routine practices presented as if no choice

Obstetric violence is the normalized mistreatment of women and birthing people in the childbirth setting. It is an attempt to control a woman’s body and decisions, violating her autonomy and dignity. It has also been termed “disrespect & abuse” by the World Health Organization.

In short, it is the neglect, lack of respect, and physical, sexual or verbal abuse during pregnancy and childbirth.

Who Perpetrates Obstetric Violence?

  • Doctors
  • Nurses
  • Midwives
  • Medical Personnel

Who is at Risk?

  • All pregnant and birthing women are at risk however there are several groups who are at higher risk:
  • Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour
  • Those from lower socioeconomic background
  • Single Women
  • Young Women
  • LGBTQ+

Your Rights

During pregnancy, childbirth and postpartum you have rights, and there are no rights that you lose because of pregnancy or childbirth. They are as follows:

  • Right to informed consent
  • Right to refuse medical treatment
  • Right to health
  • Right to privacy
  • Right to life

What To Do If You Have Been a Victim of Obstetric Violence

You have a number of options if you have been a victim of obstetric violence. They are as follows:

  • File complaint with hospital administration
  • File complaint with the governing body, nurses, doctors or midwives or all that apply
  • File Human Rights Complaint
  • Commence a Lawsuit
  • Report to Police

Each and every situation will be different and the way it should be handled will depend on the facts of the situation. It is best to consult a lawyer to discuss your options.

Finally, while difficult, speaking up and speaking out against this kind of treatment helps prevent it from happening to others. It also helps us collectively deal with the current medical culture that tolerates and perpetuates the problem.

Contact Me

If you have any questions, please feel free to reach out to me to discuss further. As always, I provide a free initial consultation.


This article was written by Personal Injury Lawyer Catherine Shearer, serving and working from both our offices in Guelph Ontario and London Ontario.