Wednesday, May 19, 2021
Legal and Historical Examination of Obstetric Racism and the Limits of Informed Consent for Black Women
Colleen Campbell, Medical Violence, Obstetric Racism, and the Limits of Informed Consent for Black Women, 26 Mich. J. Race & L. 47 (2021)
This Essay critically examines how medicine actively engages in the reproductive subordination of Black women. In obstetrics, particularly, Black women must contend with both gender and race subordination. Early American gynecology treated Black women as expendable clinical material for its institutional needs. This medical violence was animated by biological racism and the legal and economic exigencies of the antebellum era. Medical racism continues to animate Black women’s navigation of and their dehumanization within obstetrics. Today, the racial disparities in cesarean sections illustrate that Black women are simultaneously overmedicalized and medically neglected—an extension of historical medical practices rooted in the logic of biological race. Though the principle of informed consent traditionally protects the rights of autonomy, bodily integrity, and well-being, medicine nevertheless routinely subjects Black women to medically unnecessary procedures. This Essay adopts the framework of obstetric racism to analyze Black women’s overmedicalization as a site of reproductive subordination. It thus offers a critical interdisciplinary and intersectional lens to broader conversations on race in reproduction and maternal health.