A week ago we learned of the new ruling issued by the CEDAW Committee (the committee that monitors compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women) against the Spanish State for having committed obstetric violence. It is the second opinion that this body has made on this subject and both have been against Spain, this time, for events that occurred in the Donosti Public Hospital.
A decision that becomes a great legal tool, which is undoubtedly the result of the work that has been done from social and legal activism against this type of gender-based violence in Spain and that also provides more elements of strength to everything that still needs to be done. I am not going to talk here about the details of the case, I am rather going to reflect on what is happening with obstetric violence in Spain. But for those who are interested in him, I leave this article here where it is explained from the narration of Nahía Alkorta -who is the victim in this case- and his lawyer Francisca Fernández Guillén. And also the opinionin case you want to access it directly.
A couple of days after the United Nations decision was issued, the health authorities of the Basque Country issued a statement in which, far from acknowledging the faults and the damage caused, they state that “there was no physical or psychological damage caused to the patient as a result of the care provided at the Donosti University Hospital.” This has inevitably led me to remember that statement from the General Council of the Official College of Physicians of Spain stating that this “concept does not fit the reality of pregnancy, childbirth and postpartum care in our country” and that, furthermore, its use criminalized them.
Well, International Human Rights Law has already taken care to eliminate any doubt about whether or not one can formally speak of obstetric violence. Not only is there a huge legal construction that supports these claims for health and the right to a life free of violence and discrimination, which involve the fight for the elimination of obstetric violence; but there are official reports and rulings from various human rights organizations, where it is recognized as such.
The position of denying the mistreatment, the abusive and unjustified practices that are carried out on the bodies of those who face pregnancy and childbirth only serve to increase the problem. Denying that obstetric violence exists is nothing more than the deliberate manifestation of denying the human rights of pregnant women. Superimposing power and medical paternalism on the fear and pain of women, in addition to being selfish, is extremely irresponsible. A deep and structural analysis of medical training and practice is required. Many professionals in the health field are already working on it, swimming against the current while medical institutions are reluctant to do so.
However, the issue of obstetric violence is not reduced to that. The State and society are required to understand that this is a human rights issue. In other words, the responsibility for what happens to pregnant women and people is not limited exclusively to what happens in a delivery room. It is also about the effective access that has been had to health care throughout the gestational process. That they have not suffered discriminatory, racist or segregationist practices. That they have been able to move without any problem to their place of consultation despite living in a rural area or that having a disability has not caused them access barriers of any kind. That everyone, regardless of their skin color or their documentation, can see their sexual and reproductive health guaranteed.
It is time for it to be understood, although institutional pressures insist on denying it and ensuring that it is not incorporated into the law, that obstetric violence exists, that this is its name and that it is the responsibility of the State to guarantee its elimination. This is not a matter of form and mere enunciation, it is about the defense of the health and life of those who live a pregnancy, childbirth and postpartum period and that cannot be subject to debate. Obstetric violence is not only a matter of medical practice, it is above all a matter of human rights and that is unavoidable.