Protecting human rights in childbirth

FAQs

Here are some answers to frequently asked questions about human rights in childbirth.

Why do human rights matter to those who are pregnant ?

The care that pregnant people receive during pregnancy and childbirth has a long-lasting effect on the physical and psychological health of an individual and their babies.

Lack of respect for individual’s basic rights during childbirth can lead to women and birthing people feeling degraded and dehumanised.

The fundamental human rights values of dignity, privacy, equality and autonomy help guarantee people access to appropriate maternity services and respectful treatment during childbirth.

See our factsheets for more details. New mum holds her new child

What is a human rights violation in childbirth?

Failure to provide adequate maternity care, lack of respect for individual’s dignity, invasions of privacy, procedures carried out without consent, failure to provide adequate pain relief without medical contraindication, unnecessary or unexplained medical interventions, and lack of respect for women and birthing people’s choices about where and how a birth takes place, may all violate human rights law.

Are women and birthing people’s rights being violated in the UK?

Sadly, there is evidence that too many women and birthing people in the UK are experiencing maternity care that does not respect their basic rights. Read our Dignity Survey results for some hard statistics.

Strain on underresourced maternity services, a culture of excessive emphasis on clinical policy rather than individualised care, and misunderstanding of basic legal responsibilities, all contribute to poor quality care that can lead to violations of an individual’s dignity and autonomy.

Do human rights apply to the NHS?

Under the Human Rights Act 1998, all UK public bodies must respect the rights set out in the European Convention on Human Rights. Public bodies include all NHS institutions, such as hospitals, GP practices, NHS Trusts and Clinical Commissioning Groups.

This means that NHS bodies must respect human rights when making decisions. It also means that caregivers working for public bodies must respect human rights as they go about their work.

Do human rights law protect unborn children?

No. Unborn children do not have separate legal recognition from their parents. Women and birthing people are free to make choices against medical advice and, so long as they have mental capacity, they cannot be forced to accept treatment which is said to be in the interest of their unborn child.