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Last night, along with thousands of other people worldwide, I attended a screening of a new film called Freedom For Birth

The film surprised me, expecting as I did an impassioned plea from the great and good of the birthing world to reclaim birth. I got some of that, but what I also got was a very logical legal argument about how pregnant women are being disabused of their basic human rights.

I actually think this film is incredibly clever because it is compelling is a new way and appealing on a different level: It changes the basis of the whole discussion on birth rights from moral obligation to a legally upheld human right.

That’s a whole lot harder to ignore.

I wrote in 2010 about Agnes Gereb and the film takes her case as the central theme. More specifically it looks at one of the women she had previously attended and who in 2011 won a case in the European Court of Human Rights to have her right to birth outside a hospital recognised.

Have you seen anything in the press about Ternovszky v. Hungary? No? Me neither. Which is a little surprising when you consider that the ruling has massive implications for every birth within the EU.

The decision in this case defines, in law, the right of a woman not just to choose the place in which she births, but to do so in the context of a legal system that supports her. Ana Ternovszky’s argument was that while homebirth wasn’t illegal in Hungary, the fact that midwives were being prosecuted for attending them essentially did the same job.

Turns out she had a point.

What surprised me about the film was what it didn’t cover, and that is the direct comparison between this ruling, and the current situation regarding homebirth in Australia.

I was really shocked to see the headline on a blog I follow recent. Janet Fraser, homebirth advocate, saying that she wished homebirth was illegal. There was some comedy rubbing of eyes and double taking at that one until I read what she had to say. It made me think then, but even more so last night.

We had a number of midwives at our screening and as soon as the end credits rolled the room was buzzing with conversation.

“It’s terrible” exclaimed one midwife “we would never dream of such abuses of power”

Oh really?

I’m afraid I don’t agree, and I echo Janet Fraser’s sentiments on this one.

Women being strapped to a stretcher and forcibly carried outof their homes and into an operating theatre is wrong,  no question. But at least it is overtly wrong. It makes me sick to my stomach but I can challenge something I can see, and quantify.

What I find more insidious is the very thing the midwives last night claimed was morally superior to the issues the film had discussed: They sat and mocked the types of women who come into hospital “with a birth plan that says we don’t want this, and we don’t want that” without the slightest hint of irony.

Whether you undermine women by openly refusing them, or by framing their choices so as to effectively remove that choice, the result is the same; you damage women.

The way we do it in this country just makes it that bit harder to see. It’s not exactly wrong, but it’s nowhere near right. It is caught in the shadows, so subtle that women are left broken but not knowing why.

And I think that is why the ruling of  Ternovszky v. Hungary is so important, because it says that it is no longer enough ‘not to be wrong’ when it comes to supporting birth choices.

Maybe it's time to remind the professionals in this country of that fact?

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