In the case, New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services v. V.M. and B.G., the New Jersey appellate court found that V.M. and B.G. had abused and neglected their child, based on the fact that the mother, V.M., refused to consent to a cesarean section and behaved erratically while in labor. The mother gave birth vaginally without incident, and the baby was “in good medical condition.” Then she was never returned to her parents, and the judge in the case approved a plan to terminate their parental rights and give custody of the child to foster parents.
I agree with Roth that any forced or coerced cesarean – including this one – violates a person’s basic bodily integrity and right to informed consent. I’ve made this argument myself.
But here’s the thing. Roth fatally distorted the appellate court’s decision, as Kate Harding reports at Broadsheet. Harding quotes the appellate court’s reasoning:
The decision to undergo an invasive procedure such as a c-section belongs uniquely to the prospective mother after consultation with her physicians. To allow such a decision to factor into potential charges of abuse or neglect requires a prospective mother to subjugate her personal decision to a governmental agency’s statutory interpretation creating a scenario that was neither contemplated nor incorporated within the four corners of the relevant statutory language. Her decision on matters as critical as this invasive procedure must be made without interference or threat. V.M.’s decision to forego a c-section had no place in these proceedings.
Harding notes that the appellate court did uphold termination of V.M.’s parental rights, and that this would likely not have happened if her refusal of a c-section hadn’t already been framed as negligence and triggered scrutiny by the state. But once V.M. and B.G. were in the system, no court could ignore evidence of their unfitness. The couple failed to show up for a custody hearing, a psychologist was allegedly assaulted during a home visit, and another psychiatrist eventually found V.M. to be suffering from paranoid schizophrenia for which she refused medication. For these reasons, the appellate court ruled that the baby belonged in foster care. Harding is agnostic about whether the higher court decided correctly, and I agree that we don’t know enough to judge the case, ourselves.
But reporters and bloggers need to acknowledge that this case isn’t solely about forced cesareans. In our zeal to defend reproductive rights, it doesn’t help to fudge the facts. We can condemn the doctors and the lower court for violating V.M.’s basic right to bodily integrity and autonomy. At the same time, we can and should celebrate the appellate court’s clear judgment, which reaffirms that women enjoy those basic rights – even when they’re pregnant.