Here is a great article written by Dr. Marsden Wagner on The Trusting Our Bodies Website:
Every Mother’s Right to Birth How She Chooses:
It’s best for you to know your rights. You can birth at any hospital you
choose when you are in labor, they must take you in and treat you if you
request treatment. A full explanation of your rights are below.
What are my rights?
– You have the right to decline induction or cesarean section.
– You have the right to make medical decisions free from coercion and
undue influence from your birth attendants.
– You have the right to revoke consent previously given at any time
either verbally or in writing.
– You have the right to be fully informed before making a decision,
including a diagnosis, recommended treatment and alternative treatment –
the risks, benefits, discomforts and potential disabilities of those
treatments, realistic expectation of outcomes, a second opinion and any
financial or research interests a birth attendant might have in proposing
Can my birth attendant discontinue care?
No! Not when you are in labor or are within 30 days of giving birth.
– A doctor/midwife must give you 30 days notice in writing with a list of
referrals to other birth attendants in order to discontinue care.
– During labor or within the 30 days, the doctor/midwife cannot terminate
ongoing care unless the patient has successfully transferred to another
Doctors/midwives who fail to follow these guidelines can be charged with
patient abandonment which is grounds for malpractice and loss of license.
(See ACOGs and AMAs ethical guidelines and the federal law (the
Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act – EMTALA).
Can a doctor go to a judge to obtain a court order to force me to
undergo a cesarean?
Doctors can do this but thanks to a widely cited case Carder v. George
Washington University Hospital, they are less likely to do so because this
goes against the ACOG’s guidelines and opens the doctor up to having
their license revoked or other disciplinary action AND if you sue them for
forcing you to undergo treatment by coercing you to consent, then they
will lose this legal battle and they know it!
The ACOG’s ethical guidelines say that doctors must respect the
autonomy of pregnant patients and that using the courts to compel
treatment is rarely, if ever, justified.
Does the pregnant mother have the last say in all medical decisions?
Yes! The ACOG’s ethical guidelines also say that patient’s autonomy
must be respected at all times and that a doctor must obtain informed
consent for any medical or surgical treatment and that the patient’s
decision to forgo treatment whether it is based on cultural reasons,
religious reasons, personal preference or comfort must be honored.
Do I have to sign the hospital consent form?
No! You are not required by law to sign the hospital consent form. In
fact you do have the right to change the consent form to reflect your
wishes regarding specific treatments. For example, you could write on the
consent form that you refuse a cesarean.
What if I change the consent form to state I don’t want a
particular procedure or medical treatment and the doctor/midwife
does it anyway?
If you have in writing your wish to refuse a specific treatment such as a
cesarean and the doctor performs the cesarean anyway, the doctor and
hospital are subject to criminal battery charges even if you and the baby
are fine after the procedure.
Does any hospital have to treat me if I come to them in labor
asking for treatment?
Yes! If you are within 250 feet of the hospital building and are in labor,
the hospital must treat you until you are in “stable” condition which for a
laboring woman means that the baby has been delivered and the placenta
has been delivered and then they can transfer you to another hospital or
follow normal procedures until you are released from care.
Hospitals MUST admit women in active labor, explain the risks, benefits
and alternatives of all recommended treatments and honor the patient’s
wishes including the laboring mother’s right to refuse treatment even if
you can’t pay for that treatment.
If a hospital is not willing to comply with the laboring mother’s
wishes, what do I do now?
You can file a complaint with the chief compliance officer of the hospital.
Hospitals must adhere to a set of rules called the Center for Medicare and
Medicaid Services conditions of participation – CMS’s CoP – which require
hospitals to honor patient rights as are stated above. Hospitals that fail
to adhere to CoP are subject to heavy fines and risk losing their right to
qualify for Medicare and Medicaid funding.
Additionally, you can file a grievance with the hospital and you should have
received information on how to do that upon admission at the hospital.