The idea is completely horrifying — a woman in labor, forced to give birth outside, unattended, because the medical clinic refused to let her enter the building. A photograph (caution: graphic) shows a woman in precisely that situation, with an umbilical chord still linking her and the newborn as its body lays on the grassy lawn.
The incident, which occurred in Mexico, was attributed to a variety of issues. Not yet full term, the clinic chose not to admit or examine the woman, telling her to return the following day instead, despite the pregnant woman’s insistence that she was in fact in labor. Since she was an indigenous woman, many believe racism played a role in the hospital’s dismissive attitude towards her. Others note the lack accessibility to health care clinics, with limited hours and locations, which make it nearly impossible to get care both before and during birth.
“The photo is giving visibility to a wider structural problem that occurs within indigenous communities: Women are not receiving proper care. They are not being offered quality health services, not even a humane treatment,” Mayra Morales, Oaxaca’s representative for the national Network for Sexual and Reproductive Rights, told the Associated Press.
For those of us in America, we may dismiss the idea that such an incident could ever occur here. After all, we may not have the best health care system in the world, but we don’t have people giving birth on the lawn, right?
Maybe not now, but the continuing fight against adequate health care access for all people could lead us there in time, especially when it comes to undocumented pregnant people or new citizens in the country. Because of our health care system, those who aren’t legal citizens do not have access to Medicaid and other low cost or no cost insurance options that would allow them care, and have to wait five years upon becoming citizens to access these options as well.
Because adequate prenatal care is so important to the overall health of a child, many address the problem by offering medical care for an expecting mother, regardless of her immigration status or how long she has been a citizen. As American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists [ACOG] explains:
Undocumented immigrants are less likely than other residents of the United States to have health insurance. Their access to publicly funded health programs has become increasingly limited since the passage of welfare reform in 1996 and varies from state to state. This is reflected in less preventive health care, including prenatal care, and poorer health outcomes, including those associated with childbirth. The U.S.-born children of undocumented immigrant women are U.S. citizens, and the nation’s public health is enhanced by assuring that all who reside in the United States, including undocumented immigrants, have access to quality health care.
In recent years, more states have tried to eliminate such care under the guise that it makes their states “havens” for the undocumented, and have tried to cut off even this meager amount of health care. Nebraska has been battling on and off for years over whether or not prenatal care should be offered to the undocumented in the state, one of the few times that the GOP and pro-life factions have ever had a disagreement.
“I am concerned that when we allow these state benefits at public expense, we reward illegal behavior and divert limited resources from necessary services for legal residents…We are now, in effect, a sanctuary for illegal immigrants,” said State Senator Charlie Janssen, who is now vying for the Republican nomination for governor of Nebraska.
Without care, either for the legal citizen about to be born or the undocumented woman or girl about to give birth to him or her, we may not actually be forcing people to give birth on the lawn of the medical clinics, but we definitely aren’t welcoming them into the beds inside. As for the lawn itself, that may just be steps away.
Photo credit: wikimedia commons