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The University of Southampton
PhilosophyPart of Humanities

Research project: Public Policy project: Rights and Obligations of Pregnant and Birthing Women in the Dutch Context

Currently Active: 

The moral rights and obligations of pregnant and birthing women are of constant interest to a range of social developments including the organization of the birth system, obstetric ethics, and public life-style advise to pregnant women. Elselijn Kingma (NL) gives research-based advice to Dutch professional health care organizations, the Dutch government and various pressure groups on these issues. In 2015 she was awarded a £10,000.00 University of Southampton Public Policy Award to support this work.

Kingma’s research on the rights and moral obligations of pregnant and birthing women is applicable to a range of topical questions, including (1) what choices women should have with respect to their maternity care, (2) whether and how much risk they can assume on behalf of their foetus, and (3) whether, how, and how much the state may interfere with pregnant women’s ‘risky behaviours’ – e.g. smoking, drinking, etc.

These questions are at the heart of two related areas of policy change that are currently unfolding in the Netherlands.

First, the organization of the birth system. Significant changes are being proposed to the Dutch Birth system that take away some of the (legal, economical and professional) independence of midwives and gives a more stringent, and perhaps legally binding, role to guidelines. The risk associated with some of these changes is that women’s freedoms are being curtailed beyond what is acceptable, and that women who want to deviate from these guidelines – and their about-to-be-born children – are either being denied appropriate care or are facing threats to their physical and legal autonomy.

A second important development is a legal and social push to formally and informally limit the rights of pregnant and birthing women. This includes recent legal advice by the ‘Raad Strafrecht and Jeugdbescherming’ (Councel for criminal law and child protection) documenting all the possible legal routes by which pregnant women can be put under formal pressure, e.g. by being made wardens of the state; recent proposals for a legal route to forced caesarean sections; and the practice of threatening pregnant women with a report to child services if they don't submit to certain medical interventions or tests.

This project allows Elselijn Kingma to formulate research-based advice to Dutch professional health care organizations, the Dutch government and various pressure groups on these issues.

This Public Policy Project is part of a larger research project on the Philosophy of Pregnancy and Early Motherhood, run by Elselijn Kingma and Fiona Woollard.





Project Members

Elselijn Kingma

Fiona Woollard

In the Media

Below you can find Elselijn Kingma and Fiona Woollard's Op-Ed published in - a Dutch newspaper, in which they argue against Dutch proporals to increase powers for government intervention on pregnant women who smoke or abuse other substances. A rough English translation is available here.

The video below shows a short excerpt from Elselijn Kingma's contribution to the panel discussion: 'Perinatal Mortality in the Netherlands: Facts, Myths and Policy' at the first Human Rights in Childbirth conference in the Hague, the Netherlands in 2012.

Useful Downloads

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Conferences and events associated with this project:

Past Events


28th March 2016 - Programma Rode Hoed, De Geboortezorg: Een Nieuw Begin

Elselijn Kingma will be addressing a diverse group of stakeholders at an event about imminent changes to the organisation of the Dutch Birth System. For more details, please click here.



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