C-Sections and Women’s Rights, The Story of Ma Rongrong
Ma Rongrong – The Tale of a Thousand Women
Ma Rongrong, a 26-year-old Chinese woman, was admitted to the First Hospital of Yulin on 30 August 2017, already 41 weeks pregnant. She was expected to give birth shortly. The married woman was in extreme pain. According to medical records, the fetal head circumference was larger than normal, putting both mother and baby at risk. Natural birth was therefore compromised; the medical team suggested a caesarian, a procedure formerly very common in China and favoured in these circumstances.
In line with Chinese tradition, the family’s permission should be sought where invasive medical treatments are necessary. In light of this, Ma had signed an authorisation letter allowing her husband to make medical decisions on her behalf.
Seems pretty normal, right? In the case of being unable to make sound medical decisions, who better than your spouse to make such decisions both for your own wellbeing and that of your unborn child?
Mr Zhuangzhuang, Ma’s husband, and his family reportedly rejected the suggested method of birth, opting for a natural delivery. Her mother-in-law has been said to have encouraged her to push through, for this is what women do – birth children and persevere. For Ma Rongrong, things did not work out that way. She experienced extreme pain while giving birth, leaving the birthing room on two occasions to beg her husband to consent to the C-section. Both times he refused.
The next time he would see his wife would be when she was being picked up off the ground after a fatal fall from the hospital’s fifth floor. Ma had succumbed to her pain and possibly the frustration of the situation, taking both her own life and that of her unborn baby.
A serious game of blame-shifting ensued.
Mr Zhuangzhaung and his family argue that they immediately agreed to the C-section, however no paperwork has surfaced to support this. The hospital has been ruled negligent by an investigation and deemed unfit to deal with emergencies and the doctor has been suspended as well. Labelling this as an emergency is apt. In terms of Chinese law, a person reserves the sole right to make medical decisions. Furthermore, in the case of an emergency, the hospital (read medical team) can and should make the final decision in the best interests of the patient. China has no law stipulating in what conditions authorisation letters should be signed in medical practices.
Ma’s death around 20h00 on 31 August 2017 sparked a national debate on patients’ medical rights in relation to traditional family values. Many argued that the family rejected the proposed course of medical care due to the high costs associated with it. However, it should also be noted that the Central Party has been taking measures to control caesarean births in the past few years. This comes after a report published by the World Health Organisation in 2010 showing that in China, caesarian births accounted for 46% of all the births in 2007 and 2008 – much higher than the 15% that WHO suggests.
The topic was trending on China’s Twitter-like microblogging website, Weibo. One user commented: “A married woman is not some tool for producing babies.” Arguably though, historically, married women in China and across the world have indeed been a tool for producing babies. This continues to ring true today as oppressive reproductive policies continue. The one-child policy in China saw many women (and men) being sterilised and millions of forced abortions taking place, in favour of birthing boys. More recently, women have been called home to bear a second child as China faces a slowing and greying economic downturn.
Women, who were once described as holding up half of the sky by Mao, in reality continue to be systemically oppressed. The abolition of the one-child policy in October 2015 has also added to the push against once popular C-sections, fearing it would negatively impact on women’s ability to bear a second child. The abolition has been celebrated as a move towards women gaining control of their reproductive choices. This however is not true for all women. China maintains strong policies prohibiting single women, regardless of their sexual orientation, from parenthood. While married couples are actively encouraged to have another child, singletons continue to be condemned.
LBGQT marriages are illegal, thus women are viewed as single and denied birthing rights; children born outside these regulations are not issued houku’s – similar to a registration card in other countries – thus denying them access to basic social services (both private and public) such as education. Furthermore, parents are fined exuberant amounts in such cases. Latanya Mapp-Frett, Executive Director: Planned Parenthood Global, rightly argued that until China promotes a fully rights-based, voluntarily family planning programme, it is supporting the continued oppression of Chinese families through coercive reproductive policies. As the state moves closer to Confucian values, it is proposing polygamy; suggesting that monogamy, much like democracy and feminist theory, are foreign concepts imported from the West.
Ma Rongrong’s story represents the struggle of many ‘modern’ Chinese women, pressurised by the state and its institutionalised patriarchy and misogyny into marriage, bearing children and abiding by archaic family structures – even if it kills them, which in this case it did. Donald Trump’s reinstating of the global gag order places women’s reproductive rights at risk. Globally, pregnancy is especially risky for poor and marginalised women; this has been exacerbated by one swift move of the Trump administration. Developing countries especially depend on funds from the US for women’s sexual health and reproductive rights. This gag order stops the flow of funds to any organisation which promotes abortions and other services of this nature.
It is clear that globally there is a step backward with regards to women’s rights, especially reproductive rights. There is a growing void in financial and moral support services in this realm where country law’s vagueness, lack of political will, national dialogue and sheer oppression result in the death of millions of women and their unborn babies.
A story of gender inequality. A story of oppression. A story of fragile masculinity. A story of engrained and destructive patriarchy. A microcosm of a global issue.