Protecting human rights in childbirth

Research partnerships

Birthrights is proud to partner with research projects and on collaborative seminars which support our aim of improving women and birthing people’s experience of childbirth by promoting respect for human rights.

Northern Network for Medical Humanities: Narratives of consent and invisible women

Birthrights is co-leading this collaborative project with Dr Samantha Halliday (Durham CELLS) and Dr Jacqueline Nicholls (UCL). It brings together a range of researchers and practitioners from multiple disciplines to address the issue of choice in the context of reproduction, focussing upon narratives of consent as they pertain to women and birthing people who all too often are rendered invisible by the law, by the healthcare professionals treating them, or by society. The first stage of the project involves a multi-disciplinary panel discussion on narratives of consent and invisible women and birthing people at the Northern Network of Medical Humanities 4th Annual Congress. This will be followed by a workshop in September 2021. Details of follow up activity are available on the Durham CELLS website.

WRISK Project

Birthrights is a co-applicant to the WRISK project, a collaboration between the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (bpas) and Heather Trickey at the School of Social Sciences at Cardiff University. Working with stakeholders from a wide range of disciplines, the project draws on women and birthing people’s experiences to understand and improve the development and communication of risk messages in pregnancy. The project is funded by the Wellcome Trust. 

ASPIRE: Achieving Safe and Personalised maternity care In Response to Epidemics

Birthrights is on the advisory panel for this UCLAN-led, UKRI-funded study on what has worked best for women, birthing people and families accessing maternity care during the Covid-19 pandemic. Drawing on experiences in the UK and the Netherlands, it will look at how safe and personalised care can be delivered for women, birthing people, partners and babies during and after a pandemic, and in more routine times.

What Women Want

Birthrights is a partner to the White Ribbon Alliance-led What Women Want project, which is asked over one million women and girls worldwide for their priority for quality maternal and reproductive health services and were told “respectful and dignified care”. The survey has been followed up by an advocacy agenda aimed at building a movement that places women’s and girls’ experiences at the centre of healthcare improvements, no matter who they are or where they live.

Interactional Practices of Decision Making During Childbirth in Maternity Units

Birthrights is on the steering group for the University of York-led, NIHR-funded study examining how decisions are reached and communicated during birth in maternity units.  It is researching the talk that happens between staff, women and individuals in labour and their birth partners and aims to provide detailed information about the effects of language used (both verbal and non-verbal) during labour, to inform and empower staff, women, birthing people and birth partners.

DISCERN: Strengthening Open Disclosure in NHS Maternity Care

Birthrights is a co-investigator on the NIHR funded research project “Strengthening Open Disclosure in NHS Maternity Care” (known as DISCERN) which started in April 2019 and will run until June 2021. The aim of the project is to generate lessons learnt from NHS Trusts that do open disclosure well, so that they can be put into practice by other Trusts. The research team is led by Professor Jane Sandall and Dr Mary Adams from King’s College London. More information can be found here.

Born into Care: Towards inclusive guidelines when the state intervenes at birth

Birthrights sits on the advisory board of this project to develop the first national, evidence-informed good practice guidelines for professionals involved in the process of removing newborn babies from their mother/parent at birth for child protection reasons. The project is led by Professor Karen Broadhurst at Lancaster University and the Rees Centre at the University of Oxford. It follows Nuffield Family Justice Observatory research which revealed the increasing numbers of newborn babies who are subject to care proceedings in England and Wales. More information can be found here.

Without consent: Vaginal examinations during labour and the law

Birthrights and AIMS supported this 2019 Oxford University Seminar, organised by Camilla Pickles, a British Academy Postdoctoral Research Fellow working on Obstetric Violence and the Law. We presented the experiences of non-consented vaginal examinations that women and birthing people have shared with us, highlighting issues around consent and coercion and the challenges women and individuals face when they complain or try to seek redress. We are very grateful to four women with lived experience of non-consented vaginal examinations who joined us and shared their personal stories.

The multidisciplinary seminar heard from obstetricians, midwives, philosophers and lawyers about training, practice and understandings of vaginal examinations, understandings of consent in theory and practice, and the use of the law in adequately reflecting and addressing women and birthing people’s experiences. This blog gives a flavour of the issues discussed and we have contributed to an edited collection on the issue which was published in 2020. The chapter, “Non-Consented Vaginal Examinations: The Birthrights and AIMS Perspective“, was showcased in the Durham University Obstetric Violence blog in October 2020.

Policing Pregnancy 

Birthrights collaborated on two conferences with British Pregnancy Advisory Service (bpas) and the Centre for Parenting Culture Studies. In 2016, we hosted over 100 midwives, advocates, academics, policy makers and journalists to consider maternal autonomy, risk and responsibility, and examine the impact of risk culture across pregnancy and birth decisions.

  • Listen to the keynote speech on lessons from reproductive justice work in the USA and access the slides from the other presentations here.   
  • A report of the conference was published in the British Journal of Midwifery.  
  • Read articles based on the themes of the conference in The Conversation, the Daily Mail, and spiked

Our 2017 conference, “Policing Pregnancy: Who should be a mother?”, was held in 2017 at Canterbury Christ Church University. We explored changing ideas about pregnancy, motherhood, responsibility and risk, and the impact of these ideas on women and birthing people’s experience and professional services. Speakers included individuals working in sociology, anthropology, history, law, philosophy, social work and charities working with pregnant women and people. More information, including abstracts and films shown during the conference are available here.

Birthing and Motherhood 

In 2014, Birthrights co-hosted a six seminar series with the Open University on birthing and motherhood/parenthood. The seminars brought together academics, health professionals and campaigners to generate research agendas on the themes of the birthing experience, early motherhood/parenthood, and the concept of dignity in childbirth.