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“I believe that our concern must be for pregnant women everywhere, and especially for those who suffer most deprivation and who are denied their liberty.”

 — Sheila Kitzinger, 1997

Sheila Kitzinger, whose pioneering research and activism on behalf of woman-centered childbirth helped to transform millions of women’s experiences of maternity care, died this month. She was 86.

A British anthropologist, Kitzinger was an early critic of the medicalization of childbirth, the deference given to doctors, and the widespread use of medical interventions. She “may be the most important individual in the whole field of childbirth reform,” according to Judy Norsigian of the U.S.-based Our Bodies, Ourselves.

In addition to writing more than 30 books about pregnancy, birth, sexuality, and motherhood, Kitzinger spoke all over the world and advocated on behalf of women, including women in prison.

Along with other activists, she pressured the British Parliament to call for an end to the shackling of pregnant women and women in postpartum recovery. (This was in 1996, before any government body in the United States acted on the issue.)

She also encouraged midwives and doulas to provide care to women in prison. At least one of these projects, the Birth Companions, continues to offer support to women at Holloway Prison.

Observing that “many women prisoners have been sexually abused, come from families in which violence is the norm, and suffer multiple social and educational handicaps,” Kitzinger concluded, “I believe that prison perpetuates injustice instead of solving problems....”

To learn more about Sheila Kitzinger’s work on behalf of women in prison, see this website.

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