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Physician Guide to Promoting Equitable and Socially Just Obstetric Care

Author: Zoë Julian, MD, MPH

Mentor: Karen A. Scott, MD, MPH, FACOG
Editor: Elizabeth Ferries-Rowe, MD

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Significant inequities in obstetric clinical outcomes persist despite advancement in technology and social protections such as higher education and income. The disproportionate burden of premature death and morbidity affects historically marginalized communities, including Black and Indigenous birthing people, those with disabilities, immigrants, and LGBTQIA+ parents. The World Health Organization, Healthy People 2030, and the Centers for Disease Control assert that structural and social factors shape these inequities, not individual behavioral or biological factors. To equitably serve birthing communities, we as physicians and health care leaders must be accountable for the inadequacies of our health care systems and adopt evidence-based obstetric practices that directly address structural complexities and align with social justice. The following recommendations provide a call to action for every obstetrician toward this aim:

Confront the legacy of reproductive injustice in obstetrics and gynecology in the United States
As a clinical discipline, obstetrics and gynecology emerged to codify and sustain professional practices of oppression, experimentation, exploitation, and injustice against women, girls, and people with capacity for pregnancy. Scholars and activists, including sociologists, midwives, anthropologists, historians, doulas, community members, public health experts, and reproductive justice advocates, recorded much of this critical history in peer-reviewed journals, books, op-eds, documentaries, and other archival sources. Continually learn (and unlearn) from and alongside these experts to prevent continued harm and build meaningful, trusting relationships with communities seeking services.

Elicit and center the needs and values of birthing people and their families
Use active listening, shared decision-making, and other patient-centered communication tools to restore therapeutic interactions and build more authentic relationships with birthing people and their families. Prepare to responsibly participate in collaborative care models with other providers who may be better equipped to meet specific patient needs. This is critical to delivering high-quality care.

Support collaborative models of care with midwives, doulas, and other obstetric care team members
Advocate for the development, funding, implementation, and replication of collaborative models of care with patients, their families, midwives, doulas, lactation educators, and other perinatal professionals. To successfully participate in interdisciplinary collaborations, divest from health care hierarchy and abandon the false assumption that the physician is the de facto leader. This belief perpetuates inequity and invalidates the value and expertise other perinatal professionals bring to patient care.

Promote equitable policy initiatives at the health system, local, regional, and national levels
Assess organizational policies and practices using rigorous metrics that require community transparency. Include community members who have decision-making authority on maternal mortality review committees and perinatal quality collaboratives. Support implementation and expansion of home visiting or telehealth programs. Advocate for equitable federal policies including parental leave for birthing people and co-parents for a minimum of 3 months and expanded Medicaid coverage to 12 months postpartum. Learn from and alongside content and community experts in these arenas.

Physicians who respond to this call to action take essential steps towards the health systems change required to realize reproductive justice and obstetric health equity.

Further Reading:

Black Mammas Matter Alliance. Setting the Standard for Holistic Care of and for Black Women. Black Paper. April 2018. Available at:

Julian Z, Robles D, Whetstone S, et al. Community-informed models of perinatal and reproductive health services provision: a justice-centered paradigm toward equity among Black birthing communities. Semin Perinatol. 2020 Aug;44(5):151267. doi: 10.1016/j.semperi.2020.151267. Epub 2020 Jun 19. PMID: 32684310.

Scott KA, Britton L, McLemore MR. The ethics of perinatal care for Black women: dismantling the structural racism in "Mother Blame" narratives. J Perinat Neonatal Nurs. 2019 Apr/Jun;33(2):108-115. doi: 10.1097/JPN.0000000000000394. PMID: 31021935.

Initial Publication: June 2022


********** Notice Regarding Use ************

The Society for Academic Specialists in General Obstetrics and Gynecology, Inc. (“SASGOG”) is committed to accuracy and will review and validate all Pearls on an ongoing basis to reflect current practice.

This document is designed to aid practitioners in providing appropriate obstetric and gynecologic care. Recommendations are derived from major society guidelines and high-quality evidence when available, supplemented by the opinion of the author and editorial board when necessary. It should not be construed as dictating an exclusive course of treatment or procedure to be followed.

Variations in practice may be warranted when, in the reasonable judgment of the treating clinician, such course of action is indicated by the condition of the patient, limitations of available resources, or advances in knowledge or technology. SASGOG reviews the articles regularly; however, its publications may not reflect the most recent evidence. While we make every effort to present accurate and reliable information, this publication is provided “as is” without any warranty of accuracy, reliability, or otherwise, either express or implied. SASGOG does not guarantee, warrant, or endorse the products or services of any firm, organization, or person. Neither SASGOG nor its respective officers, directors, members, employees, or agents will be liable for any loss, damage, or claim with respect to any liabilities, including direct, special, indirect, or consequential damages, incurred in connection with this publication or reliance on the information presented.

Copyright 2022 The Society for Academic Specialists in General Obstetrics and Gynecology, Inc. All rights reserved.  No re-print, duplication or posting allowed without prior written consent.



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