Sounding the Alarm: Government of the Republic of Namibia v LM and Women's Rights during Childbirth in South Africa

  • Camilla Marion Sperling Pickles Constitutional Court
Keywords: Involuntary sterilisation, childbirth, informed consent, obstetric violence, capacity, human rights

Abstract

Government of the Republic of Namibia v LM [2014] NASC 19 (hereafter the LM case) concerns the involuntary sterilisation of women during childbirth. The Supreme Court of Namibia found that obtaining consent during the height of labour is inappropriate because labouring women lack the capacity to consent because of the intensity of their labour pains. This article recognises that the LM case may make its way into current litigation strategies against involuntary sterilisations in South Africa and for this reason I evaluate the soundness of the court's reasoning in the LM case. I argue that the court relied on the harmful gender stereotype that labouring women lack the capacity to make decisions, I expose this stereotype as baseless and demonstrate the harmful consequences of its perpetuation. Finally, I demonstrate why the reasoning in the LM case is particularly problematic in the South African context, and I conclude that the adoption of this sort of reasoning will result in many women facing serious injustices, because it strikes at the core of a woman's agency during childbirth.

Author Biography

Camilla Marion Sperling Pickles, Constitutional Court

Camilla Pickles completed her LLD at the University of Pretoria, where she also obtained her LLB and research LLM (Public Law). Her research focuses on addressing pregnancy and birth-related concerns in through the application of criminal, medical, status and human rights law. Currently, she is a British Academy Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Univeristy of Oxford. She served as a law research clerk for Chief Justice Mogoeng at the Constitutional Court of South Africa. She has held junior academic posts and occasionally assisted the South African Law Society and as a researcher. Camilla’s research has been presented at conferences and published in academic journals at both national and international level.

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Published
2018-08-09
Section
Case Notes