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What are my rights?


Pregnant women have the same rights to bodily autonomy and informed decision making as any other person.  Babies don't have their own rights until they are born alive.  So, the decisions for the baby are to be made by the mother. 

Your rights in health care include:

  • freedom from harm and ill-treatment

  • access to information, informed consent and respect for your choices

  • equality, freedom from discrimination

  • access to healthcare and the highest attainable level of health

Read more on your rights to:

How do things go wrong?

Pregnancy, birth and postpartum are highly complex periods in a woman's life, with many moving parts that she can't always control. However, one thing she should be able to rely on is the unconditional support of her maternity care team.

In the complexity of our medico-legal maternity care system, protection of a mother's rights to informed decision making and bodily autonomy can be forgotten in favour of hospital policies and practices.  While policies and practices are helpful for ensuring the running of the service, they aren't always in the best interests of individual women and their babies.

And it is too rarely understood is that no one is more physically and emotionally invested in a baby's safe arrival than the mother.  No one else is literally risking their future health prospects to ensure the best outcome for the baby.

As a result, some women reluctantly undergo treatments or procedures that they do not want or feel unsure about.  Sadly, they can live to regret this.  Some women are overtly bullied into certain procedures. Other women still may be seeking care options that are withheld from them, leading to outcomes they didn't want either.

These scenarios are examples of obstetric violence, which are never the way maternity care should be delivered.  We all have the right to informed decision making and evidence based care.

The UN's Human Rights Office of the High Commission describes obstetric violence as including:

"outright physical abuse, profound humiliation and verbal abuse, coercive or unconsented medical procedures (including sterilization), lack of confidentiality, failure to get fully informed consent, refusal to give pain medication, gross violations of privacy, refusal of admission to health facilities, neglecting women during childbirth to suffer life-threatening, avoidable complications, and detention of women and their newborns in facilities after childbirth due to an inability to pay."

What can I do about it?

Fortunately there are ways to address your concerns.  You can:

  • complain so you can:

    • get the care you want (if you're pregnant), or

    • have the opportunity to have the system changed so that what you experienced doesn't happen again (after birth), or

  • pursue legal action if you believe you have suffered medical negligence from treatment you have received.​

Start your complaint
You can either use Best Birth Finder...
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In Best Birth Finder you can review your birth for other women to see, and get an automatically generated draft complaint email sent straight to your inbox. 
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... or follow these templates for your state
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Sharna's story: Vaginal birth not available for VBAC

Sharna is pregnant with her second baby after having had an unplanned c-section for her first baby.  She would really like to have a vaginal birth this time and has read that support from midwives increases her chances of having a vaginal birth after previous c-section (VBAC).  However, her hospital have denied her access to the midwifery programme... Read more

Sophie's story: Induction for "big baby"

Sophie is pregnant with her first child. She has had a normal, healthy pregnancy but now at 36 weeks she has been told her baby is measuring larger than normal.  She is booked in to birth at her local public hospital under the care of a team of midwives, which is overseen by obstetricians if necessary (the standard of maternity care in Australia).  The midwife has told her an early induction would be best so she can avoid delivering a “big” baby, especially as a first time mum.... Read more.

Young Mother Expecting
Jessica's story: Induction to "speed up" labour

Jessica is at the hospital, in early labour with her second child.  Unfortunately her labour has stalled due to the journey from home to the hospital, then the long walk along brightly lit corridors to finally arrive in the birthing room.  After an hour or so of quietness, Jessica is finally starting to go back into active labour again, but a midwife enters the room and expresses concern that she is not progressing “as she should”... Read more.  

Lilly's story: Unplanned c/section

Lilly attended her hospital in labour at 41 weeks with her first child, and as she was unaware of her rights and the hospital made their recommendations sound like legal requirements, she agreed to their interventions, which unfortunately led to an unplanned caesarean section.  In the difficult weeks and months after her baby’s birth, recovering from the operation and trying to establish breastfeeding and motherhood, she starts to reflect on her experience... Read more.

Mother and Baby

How to commence legal action for medical negligence

Clare Eves from Shine Lawyers can give you more information about what's involved with pursuing legal action for medical negligence.

And David Lewis from Shine's media team would love to hear your experience of birthing in the maternity care system - regardless of whether you pursue legal action.  (Cc us at as well.)

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