Obstetric Violence: An Intersectional Refraction through Abolition Feminism

Rodante van der Waal*, Kaveri Mayra, Anna Horn, Rachelle Chadwick

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)


Obstetric violence, a term coined by activists in Latin America to describe violence during pregnancy, childbirth, and postpartum, is a controversial feminist term in global health policymaking as well as in obstetric and midwifery practice and research. We reflect on the term both theoretically and autoethnographically to demonstrate its feminist value in addressing the problem of violence as embedded within the obstetric institution. We argue that obstetric violence as an activist and critical feminist concept can only be effective for change when it is clearly understood as institutionalized intersectional violence. Therefore, we propose an abolitionist framework for further study. Through this lens, we refract the concept of obstetric violence as institutionalized, intersectional, and racializing violence by (1) making an abolitionist historiography of the obstetric institution, and (2) centering anti-Black obstetric racism as the anchor point of obstetric violence, where the afterlife of slavery, racial capitalism, the impact of systemic racism, and the consequences of patriarchal biopolitics come together. Abolition provides a unique approach to study obstetric violence since it not only refuses and dismantles violent institutions, but specifically focuses on building futures out of existing alternative practices toward a life-affirming world of care. We locate the abolitionist futures of maternity care in Black, Indigenous, and independent doula and midwifery practices.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)91-114
Number of pages24
JournalFeminist Anthropology
Issue number1
Early online date22 Aug 2022
Publication statusPublished - 12 May 2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We are grateful for the support and feedback of the editors, Dána-Ain Davis and Sameena Mulla, in addition to the time and constructive suggestions of the anonymous reviewers. Our research is underpinned by the parents who graciously shared their stories and lives with us and we are indebted to their openness - thank you. Lastly, we'd like to thank each other, co-authors, colleagues and now, friends. Crafting this paper together bonded us over shared philosophies, scholar-activism and a desire for change in maternity care systems. To borrow a term from Natasha Smith, the founder and managing director of the Women's Health and Maternal Well-being Initiative C.I.C., we have begun to develop a “radical friendship” which we hope will lead to impactful scholarship that centres the margins.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 The Authors. Feminist Anthropology published by Wiley Periodicals LLC on behalf of American Anthropological Association.

Structured keywords

  • SPS Centre for Gender and Violence Research


  • abolition
  • childbirth
  • midwifery
  • obstetric institution
  • obstetric racism
  • obstetric violence


Dive into the research topics of 'Obstetric Violence: An Intersectional Refraction through Abolition Feminism'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this