Medical Violence, Obstetric Racism, and the Limits of Informed Consent for Black Women
Michigan Journal of Race and Law, Winter 2021; 26 (Special Issue)
The United States’ alarmingly high C-section rate and its equally alarming maternal mortality rate make it clear that reproductive healthcare is failing women. But it is especially failing Black women, who are today disproportionately exposed to these and other reproductive health risks just as they have been throughout history. The Michigan Journal of Gender & Law selected this Essay because it traces a direct line from early gynecology’s reliance on the bodies of unconsenting Black women to how medicine and the law’s failure to reckon with this history continues to harm Black women now. While these institutions now purport to embrace ethical principles like bodily autonomy and individual agency, this Essay critically examines why Black women must still navigate reproductive healthcare against a backdrop of both racist medical violence that puts their health at risk and a legal doctrine of informed consent that cannot realistically protect them.
Editor’s note: The Michigan Journal of Race & Law is a legal journal associated with the University of Michigan Law School that serves as a forum for the exploration of issues relating to race and law.