Beyond Risks and Rates in Obstetric Care


  • Barbara Katz Rothman Ph.D.

    1. Associate Professor of Sociology, Baruch College of the City University of New York, 17 Lexington Ave., New York, NY 10010. She is author of In Labor: Women and Power in the Birthplace, New York: W. W. Norton, 1982; also published as Giving Birth: Alternatives in Childbirth, New York: Penguin. Her current work is on women's experiences with amniocentesis, to be published by The Viking Press.
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  • This paper is adapted from a presentation at the conference, Technological Approaches to Obstetrics: Benefits, Risks, Alternatives IV on Oct. 18, 1984.


ABSTRACT: Is there a pattern to past errors in perinatal care? Who is invested with the right to err? The errors most often made-the failure of regional perinatal care to accelerate the decline in infant mortality, and burgeoning technology to have much impact on mortality and morbidity-come from taking an overly narrow, technological view of pregnancy and childbirth. Yet the people we invest with the right to err are those whose focus is most narrow, technical, and medical.

This focus has promoted viewing the fetus as separate from the mother and increasingly as her adversary. Past errors in perinatal care, such as the DES tragedy and reliance on x-rays, diuretics, and other short-lived fashions, might have been avoided if pregnancy and birth had been seen in a broader social context.