The Vanishing Mother: Cesarean Section and “Evidence-Based Obstetrics”

Abstract

The philosophy of “evidence-based medicine”—basing medical decisions on evidence from randomized controlled trials and other forms of aggregate data rather than on clinical experience or expert opinion—has swept U.S. medical practice in recent years. Obstetricians justify recent increases in the use of cesarean section, and dramatic decreases in vaginal birth following previous cesarean, as evidence-based obstetrical practice. Analysis of pivotal “evidence” supporting cesarean demonstrates that the data are a product of its social milieu: The mother’s body disappears from analytical view; images of fetal safety are marketing tools; technology magically wards off the unpredictability and danger of birth. These changes in practice have profound implications for maternal and child health. A feminist project within obstetrics is both feasible and urgently needed as one locus of resistance.