The 180

Elective C-sections are the women's health issue abandoned by feminists, says Alberta doctor

Obstetrician and urogynecologist Magnus Murphy argues pregnant women should be able to opt for a caesarean section if they want because they are a safe and often preferred alternative to a planned vaginal delivery — not just an intervention to a complicated delivery.
A woman delivers twins by caesarean section in North Carolina in 2005. A Canadian doctor argues that planned c-sections should be an option for all women here, not just in emergency or health-related situations. (FirstHealth via The Fayetteville Observer/Associate Press)

For the most part, pregnancy in Canada is rife with choice.

Will the baby be delivered by a midwife or a doctor? Will the parents learn the sex of the child in advance or not? Will it be a hospital or home birth? Each one of those choices, is left up to the mother. 

But Dr. Magnus Murphy says, when it comes to caesarean sections, women don't have as much choice as they should. 

Murphy, an obstetrician and urogynecologist, says C-sections typically are offered to women with significant medical or obstetrical problems. 

"In general, it's not a choice that's given to women."

Murphy concedes C-sections have surgical risks, but says they need to be contrasted against the risks of vaginal delivery so that pregnant women can make a choice based on informed consent. 

Magnus Murphy argues all pregnant women should have the right to choose an elective C-section for the birth of their child. (Manusha Janakiram/CBC)

"The pelvic floor outcomes are completely ignored and that is a huge impact on a woman's quality of life over time," he says. 

Murphy now focuses exclusively on pelvic floor dysfunction — a range of symptoms which include bladder and bowel problems as well as pelvic pain — and he says he often hears patients voicing regret. 

"It's not uncommon to hear 'if I had only known, I would have made this choice or that choice' and the point I'm trying to make is not that women should choose caesareans or that's the way it should be done, but that women deserve to have proper information."

'The feminist movement has dropped the ball on this'

Murphy, who has authored two books on the topic, says the issue of elective caesareans is the one women's health issue that feminists have chosen to ignore. 

"There are a lot of women who do feel that the feminist movement has dropped the ball on this," he says.

Murphy says he thinks part of the problem is that generally the feminist movement has hitched itself to what he calls the "natural movement" and as a result have abandoned women who might opt for a C-section. 

"It's become a situation where you are not a real woman unless you go through as normal or natural a birth as possible — less of everything. That's a valid position. But the opposite position should be respected as well. I'm not sure why these women are denigrated as 'too posh to push.' That's a very denigrating slogan and it's used to humiliate and I think that's completely unnecessary and unfair."

It's become a situation where you are not a real woman unless you go through as normal or natural a birth as possible — less of everything.- Dr. Magnus Murphy 

Murphy is critical of the logic saying there are many natural events society no longer accepts. 

"We don't accept diseases that can be prevented with vaccines. We don't accept diseases that can be treated with antibiotics, or conditions that can be corrected with surgeries. They are all normal. It's also normal to have a 1 in 7 chance of dying during childbirth — we don't accept that." 

Click the PLAY button above to hear the full interview with Dr. Magnus Murphy.