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Alliance Francophone pour l’Accouchement Respecté (AFAR) <https://afar.info> is a French-Language network of citizens and non-profit societies involved in the support of, and information about, gentle childbirth and care of the newborn. The society has been registered in May 2003. AFAR does not advocate specific choices with respect to places of birth and its attendants, and it is free from any philosophical, religious or political affiliation. Its role is to share scientific and legal information, and actively support informed choices by all actors of childbirth.
Today, parents are allowed less and less freedom of choice for the places and attendants of childbirth. This is due to two major reasons: first, the pursuit of a profit-making policy enforced by a security discourse devoid of any scientifical grounding, and the fear of litigation. The marketting of birth, in France, is obvious in the dismantling of small obstetrical units to the benefit of “birth factories”. Fear of litigation has pushed professional attendants to shelter behind protocols imposing an increasing number of interventions, most of which are useless or detrimental to the natural process of birthing. For instance, the cascade of iatrogenous interventions often starts with induction of labour for the sake of reducing hospital costs thanks to the scheduling of teamwork. This absurdity of the “birth machine” has been put in the right words by Prof. Malinas, a gynecologist-obstretician:
“The task of traditional obstetrics was to monitor a physiological phenomenon, being ready to act at every moment. Modern obstetrics aims at disrupting this process in such a way that interventions will become vital at the very moment there is available staff. This is much more difficult!” (Le Dauphiné Libéré, 8 May 1994)
Though AFAR’s territory is French-speaking countries, it is bound to work with international partners on specific actions. Among these will be the sharing of its on-line database of bibliographic references. Its operation may be demonstrated clicking the “épisiotomie” link on the page: <https://afar.info/biblio-liens.htm> [link not checked]
Access to this documentary resource will soon become bilingual. AFAR welcomes well-trained editors willing to take part in adding content to its database which will remain accessible to all Internet users.
The next international action will be AFAR’s participation in the European Social Forum <http://www.fse-esf.org/> [link not checked] which is due to take place near Paris on 12–15 November this year. AFAR is in the process of submitting a proposal for a workshop on the topic of birth rights and freedom, in which we hope to involve a number of non-profit societies in France, plus more in the UK and other neighbouring countries.
The third action will be SMAR, the worldwide week for respected childbirth (Semaine Mondiale de l’Accouchement Respecté) which has been scheduled on May 3–9, 2004. The topic for 2004 will be “Episiotomy, genital mutilation”. Our presentation page of SMAR on <https://afar.info/smar2004.htm> [link not checked] will shortly be available in English.
The new phase of birth activism embodied in the launching of AFAR has become possible thanks to an increasing mobilisation of citizens in France and French-speaking countries: more articles in broad-distribution magazines, more items on the TV and radio, more books… such as the recent one on women and parent’s rights, by Sophie Gamelin and Martine Herzog-Evans:Les droits des mères (1) : La grossesse et l’accouchement ; Les droits des mères (2) : Les premiers mois. Paris : L’Harmattan. <http://perinatalite.chez.tiscali.fr/livre-droit/presentation.htm>[link not checked]
The snowball effect of these interventions in the mass media is encouraging at a time the situation of the French birth policy is worsening in the direction of hypermedicalisation. It is felt that the ground of action for the AFAR will be the places in which recent laws on informed consent and freedom of choice are still being ignored. AFAR’s ambition is to support the birth options of its members thanks to the availability of scientific data, legal information, and taking legal action whenever necessary. Currently, its law counsellors are focussing on birth plans, their contents and submission procedures in the framework of contractual links between the caregivers and users of the health system.