Lorna A. Turnbull discusses these issues in the article "The Legal Characterization of Pregnancy and Mothering: Does Mother Know Best?" in the Spring/Summer 2001 issue of Journal of the Association for Research on Mothering.
She states that the legal system has historically relied on a medical model of pregnancy that dictates the behavior and decisions made by a women. The state has then attempted to regulate pregnant women's behavior through criminal prosecutions or by allowing civil actions against the mother.
"The medical model removes the power of women with respect to their pregnancies and places it in the hands of doctors, or in some cases, the state. The model allows women to be depicted as self-interested or incompetent. The standards of medicine become the norm against which a pregnant woman's behavior is judged and a woman who decides against the norm of medical science is cast as irrational and selfish. A woman who defies the truth of medical knowledge becomes a bad mother, one who has declined to put the perceived needs of the foetus ahead of her own concerns."
Homebirthing and unassisted birthing mothers know this frame of reference all too well. By choosing to birth a home with or without a professional who is not a doctor, women are considered to be flouting what the medical establishment has deemed proper behavior for birthing women. The American College of Obstetrics and Gynaecologists have repeatedly decried the dangers of homebirth calling mothers "selfish," "irresponsible" and "incompetent." Conversely the vast majority of mothers who do choose to birth their babies at home do so beleiving that it is within the best interests of their baby and themselves; as to not be exposed to the risks attended with hospital birth. Ironically, the evidence based research of the most appropriate care for birth aligns with homebirth practices moreso than hospital births for low-risk women. Yet women are still being framed as unable to understand medical practices and then stupid and irresonsible for choosing to go against those practices. It seems that we still live in a world of "doctor knows best."
Rixa of Stand and Deliver also gave a talk discussing Risk, Responsibility and Safety at the 2008 Trust Birth Conference.