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Women in pain: how narratives of pain and sacrifice complicate the debate over the Catholic provision of obstetrical care
  1. Olivia Nyberg
  1. Boston, MA, USA
  1. Correspondence to Olivia Nyberg, Boston, MA, USA; omnyberg18{at}


Disputes regarding the denial of obstetrical care in Catholic hospitals are met by well-worn responses from both Catholic and secular ethicists. Catholic ethicists often focus on fetal personhood while secular actors assert that Catholic care disaffirms the mother’s personhood. However, this debate’s focus on maternal and fetal personhood fails to encompass the divergent attitudes towards obstetrical healthcare. Attitudes towards pain, for example, are ignored. Modern medicine often approaches pain as a medical problem which ought to be treated. Catholic stances towards pain may present it as not wholly negative and, perhaps, constitutive of spiritual growth. Spiritually formative pain is commonly mapped onto obstetrical experiences; narratives of maternal sacrifice are found throughout Catholicism. Interrogating pain works to complicate and, perhaps, delegitimise the argument that Catholic care devalues the pain experience of the woman. Rather, pain is used to affirm the woman’s personhood, facilitating spiritual growth and development.

  • obstetrics
  • women's health
  • theology
  • medical ethics/bioethics

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  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient and public involvement statement No patients or subjects were involved in this research.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.