The Mamafesto: Update on mother who endured forced episiotomy

Jun 8, 2015 at 3:00 p.m. ET
Image: Maria Grover/iStock/Getty Images Plus

Back in April, we shared the story of "Kelly," a woman from California who had her perineum cut 12 times against her will during labor. Now, "Kelly" has come forward, filing an official complaint and naming her obstetrician publicly.

According to a press release from the organization Improving Birth, Kimberly Turbin, who was previously identified as "Kelly" to protect her privacy, has filed a complaint with the Central District of the LA Country Superior Court against her former obstetrician, Dr. Alex Abbassi, for forcibly cutting her with scissors 12 times despite her continuous refusal of the procedure. Dr. Abbassi, who oversaw Kimberly's birth at Providence Tarzana Medical Center in Tarzana, California, was served with the lawsuit on June 3.

When we last wrote about Kimberly, she was going to represent herself in court, but since then, she has found legal representation and will be represented by Sacramento lawyer Mark Merin, who is widely known for his success in high-profile civil rights cases. "This is a historic action," said Mr. Merin. "Today, legal protections for American women in childbirth are uncertain — but with Ms. Turbin’s case, I intend to show that there are, indeed, real consequences when providers inflict harm on vulnerable patients."

Merin is right in that this is a historic action, one that will hopefully provide for true bodily autonomy for those who give birth. Unfortunately, this case is only one of many where episiotomies have been forced on unwilling patients. For something that is no longer seen as best practice, it is appalling that some within the medical community not only treat it as a common procedure, but completely disregard the wishes and rights of their patients.

Kimberly also spoke publicly about this for the first time, sharing her thoughts with Improving Birth. "Every time I hear one of these stories about women being ignored when they complained about how they were treated in the hospital, it reminds me of why I’m doing this," she said. "It took a lot of people to get this far, but this is the proof that you can do something. This is a big step for women who have been silenced."

Her video, which shows Dr. Abbassi performing the episiotomy while Kimberly continues to voice her refusal, has been viewed on YouTube by hundreds of thousands of people. It is clear that many, many people — both women and men alike — are standing behind Kimberly and will continue to support her throughout her fight.

According to Improving Birth, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has also been notified of the claim pursuant to the Federal Tort Claims Act, as Dr. Abbassi appears to have been employed by the federally supported health center El Proyecto Del Barrio at the time of the incident.

We'll be watching Kimberly's case closely, as the arguments and eventual verdict have the potential to have a large impact on the birthing industry and the rights of those who give birth in hospital settings.

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