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Coercive C-Sections

Amber Marlowe anticipated an easy delivery when she went into labor on January 14, 2004. But after a routine ultrasound, doctors at Wilkes-Barre General Hospital, in Pennsylvania, decided that the baby  -- at what looked like 13 pounds  -- was too big to deliver vaginally and told her that she needed to have a cesarean. The mom-to-be, however, wasn't convinced: After all, she'd given birth to her six previous kids the natural way, including other large babies. And monitoring showed that the fetus was in no apparent distress.

After she said no to surgery, doctors spent hours trying to change her mind. When that didn't work, the hospital went to court, seeking an order to become her unborn baby's legal guardian. A judge ruled that the doctors could perform a "medically necessary" c-section against the mom's will, if she returned to that hospital. Meanwhile, she and her husband checked out against the doctors' advice and went to another hospital, where she later gave birth vaginally to a healthy 11-pound girl. "When I found out about the court order, I couldn't believe the hospital would do something like that. It was scary and very shocking," says Marlowe. "All this just because I didn't want a c-section."

She and her husband, John, turned to the National Advocates for Pregnant Women (NAPW), in New York City, for help in contesting the judge's ruling  -- the first of its kind in Pennsylvania. The couple is also considering legal action against the hospital. "It's not about us," says John Marlowe. "What's going to happen to the next lady who goes there? We want everyone to know what's going on. What they did was wrong, and our goal is to put a stop to it so that other women don't end up with c-sections they don't need."

Lisa Collier Cool is an award-winning health journalist and mother of three from Pelham, NY.