Melissa Rowland and the rights of pregnant women

Obstet Gynecol. 2004 Dec;104(6):1234-6. doi: 10.1097/01.AOG.0000146289.65429.48.


On March 11, 2004, the State of Utah charged Melissa Rowland with the murder of her stillborn fetus, claiming that the death resulted from her rejection of the advice of her physicians to have a cesarean delivery. Although Ms. Rowland avoided the homicide charge by pleading guilty to lesser child endangerment charges, the approach taken by the State raises important and troubling issues regarding the autonomy rights of pregnant women, as well as their right to speak on behalf their unborn children. We use this case to review relevant ethical principals and legal precedents. We conclude that if Ms. Rowland is to be judged legally culpable for the death of her fetus, then the courts must first create a new and significant exception to the doctrine of informed consent and the common law and constitutional principles upon which it is based. Such a precedent could introduce a substantial disparity between the rights of pregnant women and those of all other persons. We would argue that a better means of assuring the health interests of the pregnant woman and the fetus in similar circumstances is through advocacy by obstetricians for pregnant women's fully realized rights, including the right to informed consent.

Publication types

  • Biography
  • Historical Article
  • Legal Case

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cesarean Section / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Ethics, Clinical
  • Female
  • Fetal Death*
  • History, 21st Century
  • Homicide / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Humans
  • Physician-Patient Relations
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Outcome
  • Treatment Refusal / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Utah

Personal name as subject

  • Melissa Rowland