Women’s Rights are Patients’ RightsFebruary 15, 2017
In 1987, Angela Carder was twenty-seven years old, newly married, pregnant for the first time, and in remission from cancer. Twenty-five weeks into her pregnancy, her cancer returned. Her prognosis was terminal and her condition deteriorated rapidly. When administrators at George Washington University Medical Center learned that Carder had no plan to save her fetus, they went to court to determine their responsibility. A judge ordered an immediate cesarean section. The baby lived two hours; the mother died two days later. Carder’s story exemplifies a small, but significant trend in obstetrical practice in the 1980s, when hospitals and doctors used the courts to compel pregnant women to undergo cesarean sections in order to preserve the life and/or health of their fetuses. This article exposes and analyzes court ordered cesarean sections in the 1980s and reveals the key role that organized medicine played in ending the practice by defending pregnant women’s reproductive rights.