There is an article in the UK newspaper the Telegraph, about Sheila Kitzinger, and her thoughts about a new UK plan to ensure all women have choice when it comes to where they give birth. From a US perspective, the plan is pretty radical. The choice includes home birth, a birth center attended by midwives and a traditional hospital setting.
Kitzinger supports the plan, but criticizes the language of choice:
“Choice comes from the language of advertising – it is what happens in supermarkets,” she said. “The idea is one of free choice but in fact the products at eye level are displayed to have the greatest impact on the consumer; it is the same with maternity.”
“Childbirth experts are often blamed for raising women’s expectations but I think you have to look further. I think the problem is a consumerist agenda. We are geared up to competition, to test everything; nowadays, we see birth as a performance,” she said.
Sound familiar to anyone?
Reproductive justice activists have long critiqued the reproductive rights movement for using the consumer based “choice” framework. They argue that not everyone has the same “choice” largely due to social and economic factors.
Moving from choice to justice has been a way to move the reproductive rights framework to a broader philosophy that incorporates the reality that many women do not have a choice–and their socio-economic situation, their race, their religion, etc don’t allow them to make these decisions.
One of the reasons “choice” is so popular, though, is that it removes judgment. If I say I am pro-choice, I’m not saying I like abortion or promote it, but that I value the right of every individual to decide. Same thing with birth. If the UK government supports every woman having a choice, they are not saying that homebirth is good, or hospital birth bad, but that every person should be able to decide.
But “choice” still ignores that there are factors that influence us, often that we don’t have control over. Those factors could be doctor’s opinions, family pressures, economic circumstances, access issues, cultural barriers. This is another place where the reproductive justice and birth activist movements find commonality–“choice” isn’t working too well for either movement.
Reproductive rights folks have latched onto “justice” as a frame instead. Reproductive justice works toward a world where all people have the resources and support they need to make decisions about family creation. I think birth activism fits neatly into that framework, which is part of the reason I write about how these issues overlap.