Elizabeth Kukura ‘09 was awarded second place in the National Advocates for Pregnant Women’s first student writing contest. Kukura’s article, “Choice in Birth: Preserving Access to VBAC” will be published in the Winter 2010 issue of the Penn State Law Review.

The NAPW contest called for law students to address the statutory, constitutional, and/or human rights arguments that can be made to challenge the trend of banning pregnant women from having a vaginal birth after a caesarean section (VBAC). After a period when VBAC was promoted to help reverse the skyrocketing cesarean rate, more than 800 hospitals now refuse to accept women who intend to have a VBAC because the hospitals fear the risk of complications. Kukura explains, “By eliminating the choice of VBAC, hospitals and providers essentially compel women to undergo major abdominal surgery—regardless of medical necessity and the stated preference of the individual woman herself—or choose to labor outside a hospital setting.”  She argues that such restrictions, which have been adopted against a backdrop of insufficient empirical evidence, violate rights to liberty and reproductive choice.

A critical missing link, Kukura writes, is that many women are not fully informed of what their rights are in childbirth. A 2002 survey of over 1,500 women about their recent birth experiences found that “only 62% of respondents said they had fully understood their right to receive complete explanations of any procedure, drug, or test offered to them during pregnancy and childbirth.” Exploring various economic, legal, and political factors that have led to current birthing practices, Kukura makes the case that VBAC restrictions should be a matter of concern for all those who care about reproductive freedom.

Kukura is currently a Legal Fellow with Law Students for Reproductive Justice.

Posted November 25, 2009