Jennifer Goodall wants to have a vaginal birth, but she says a hospital in Florida has threatened to report her to child welfare authorities unless she undergoes cesarean surgery.
Goodall -- who, as of July 25, was 41 weeks pregnant -- says she learned of the hospital’s intentions from a letter written to her by the Chief Financial Officer of Bayfront Health Port Charlotte. She reportedly received that letter on July 10.
Per a Friday press release by the National Advocates for Pregnant Women:
The letter informed her that because she decided to have a trial of labor before agreeing to cesarean surgery, her prenatal care providers intended to report her to the Department of Children and Family Services, seek a court order to perform surgery, and to perform cesarean surgery on her “with or without [her] consent” if she came to the hospital.
A trial of labor is an attempt to give birth after one or more cesarean deliveries.
Goodall, who lives in Cape Coral, Florida, has had three previous cesarean surgeries. According to the release, she wants to have a vaginal birth after cesarean (known as a VBAC) and avoid additional surgery if possible. However, Goodall stressed that she would absolutely consent to a C-section if “there were any indication during labor that it is necessary.”
“My decision to allow labor to proceed before consenting to a surgical intervention is based on years of research, careful consideration of the risks to me and my baby, and my family’s needs,” Goodall said in a statement obtained by the National Advocates for Pregnant Women. “All I want is to be able to go to the hospital when I’m in labor and have my medical decisions respected -- and my decision is to proceed with a trial of labor and not have cesarean surgery unless some medical complication arises that makes cesarean surgery necessary for my or my baby’s health.”
The National Advocates for Pregnant Women filed a complaint in federal court on behalf of Goodall earlier this month, seeking a temporary restraining order against the hospital. This would have prevented doctors from forcing her to undergo cesarean surgery against her will.
The request, however, was denied by Federal District Judge John E. Steele, who reportedly said Goodall has no “right to compel a physician or medical facility to perform a medical procedure in the manner she wishes against their best medical judgment.”
According to RH Reality Check, a blog focusing on sexual and reproductive health and justice, Goodall has told her lawyers that she is now “terrified” to enter a hospital.
Bayfront Health Port Charlotte has yet to respond to The Huffington Post's requests for comment.
As the National Advocates for Pregnant Women notes, both VBAC and repeat C-sections pose serious health risks to mom and baby.
The American Pregnancy Association notes that though 60 to 80 percent of women “who have previously undergone cesarean birth can successfully give birth vaginally,” VBAC also carries a small -- but real and serious -- risk of uterine rupture and other problems.
On the other hand, the National Advocates for Pregnant Women points out that multiple cesarean surgeries can be risky as well. “Undergoing a cesarean surgery for the fourth time carries a 1 in 8 chance of major complications,” the organization writes, citing a 2006 study.
The rate of cesarean surgery in the United States is extremely high. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 32.8 percent of births in the U.S. were by C-section in 2012. The World Health Organization has said that a country’s target C-section rate should be around 10 to 15 percent.
Earlier this year, another mom made headlines after she was forced to have a C-section despite her insistence that she wanted to deliver her baby vaginally. According to The New York Times, Rinat Dray sued New York's Staten Island University Hospital for malpractice after her baby was delivered surgically, against her will.
In its report, the Times wrote that the C-section rate in the U.S. has been “climbing since 1996, despite warnings from health officials that C-sections are more likely than natural births to cause problems for the health of the mother and the baby.”
“There is a national epidemic of C-sections,” said Dray's lawyer, per The Daily Beast.
But Jennifer Goodall says that for her, the issue isn’t just about the pros and cons of medical procedures, but about her right to make decisions about her own body and the safety and health of her kids.
“Instead of respecting my wishes like they would for any other patient, my health care providers have made me fear for my safety and custody of my children,” she said in a statement. “The people who are supposed to be caring for me and my baby have put me into an even more dangerous situation. I know I’m not the only one to go through this; I’m speaking out because pregnant women deserve better.”
UPDATE: July 29 — Goodall gave birth to a healthy baby boy over the weekend. According to a statement provided to the National Advocates for Pregnant Women this week, Goodall says she chose to give birth at a different hospital, where she attempted a vaginal birth. However, she eventually consented to surgery when it “became apparent that it was necessary because labor was not progressing.”
“This was all I wanted to begin with,” said Goodall. “I am grateful to the medical staff at another hospital who assisted us in a safe and healthy delivery. Now, my family's focus is on welcoming our newborn into our family with love, and on my physical and emotional recovery from the intensity of the last few days.”
CORRECTION: According to the National Advocates for Pregnant Women, Goodall lives in Cape Coral, Florida, not Coral Gables, as a previous version of this article erroneously stated.