Maternal morbidity and mortality in childbirth is a matter of utmost importance in public health. In this article, we argue that part of the problem lies in violence committed by health workers in childbearing or abortion services, which affects health-service access, compliance, quality, and effectiveness. We analysed rigorous research from the past decade and discuss four forms of violent abuse by doctors and nurses: neglect and verbal, physical, and sexual abuse. These forms of violence recur, are often deliberate, are a serious violation of human rights, and are related to poor quality and effectiveness of health-care services. This abuse is a means of controlling patients that is learnt during training and reinforced in health facilities. Abuse occurs mainly in situations in which the legitimacy of health services is questionable or can be the result of prejudice against certain population groups. We discuss ways to prevent violent abuse.