Protecting human rights in childbirth


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

Why do human rights matter to pregnant women?

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

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

The fundamental human rights values of dignity, privacy, equality and autonomy help guarantee women 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 women’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’s choices about where and how a birth takes place, may all violate human rights law.

Are women’s rights being violated in the UK?

Sadly, there is evidence that too many women 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 women’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 mothers. Women 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.