Women’s reproductive autonomy: medicalisation and beyond

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Abstract

Reproductive autonomy is central to women’s welfare both because childbearing takes place in women’s bodies and because they are generally expected to take primary responsibility for child rearing. In 2005, the factors that influence their autonomy most strongly are poverty and belief systems that devalue such autonomy. Unfortunately, such autonomy is a low priority for most societies, or is anathema to their belief systems altogether. This situation is doubly sad because women’s reproductive autonomy is intrinsically valuable for women and also instrumentally valuable for the welfare of humankind. This paper takes for granted the moral and practical necessity of such autonomy and digs deeper into the question of what such a commitment might entail, focusing on the mid-level policy making that, at least in the US and Canada, plays a significant role in shaping women’s options. This paper examines a large teaching hospital’s policy on reduction of multifetal pregnancies. The policy permits reduction of triplets to twins, but not twins to a singleton. As there is no morally relevant difference between these two types of reduction, it is evident that inappropriate medicalisation can still limit women’s autonomy in undesirable ways.

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