When most women become pregnant, understandably they believe the choice of how they give birth will remain theirs; whether to deliver vaginally or through cesarean surgery or where to give birth, at home or at a hospital. Decades ago, those decisions were well within the domain of pregnant patients whose reproductive liberty and autonomy interests gained constitutional recognition in the landmark 1973 Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade.
After all, whose body is it anyway? But what may have seemed clear-cut decades ago, is now put to the test by doctors and lower courts.
Decades ago, refusing to undergo cesarean surgery was not a crime. That’s another matter now in the wake of recent “fetal protection” enactments that make it a crime for a pregnant woman to engage in any conduct that might threaten harm to a fetus. Some doctors believe this applies to how a woman gives birth.
Melissa Rowland refused to undergo the cesarean surgery recommended by her doctor. She was later charged with murder after one of her fetuses was stillborn. Rowland accepted a plea deal, which made her criminally liable for child endangerment.