The Supreme Court of Canada and What It Means To Be “Of Woman Born"

Document Type

Book Chapter

Publication Date



Adrienne Rich, Motherhood, Intervention in Pregnancy, Jurisprudence, Patriarchy, Supreme Court of Canada, Winnipeg Child and Family Services v G (1997), Dobson (Litigation Guardian of) v Dobson (1999)


In this chapter, I look for connections between Adrienne Rich’s reflections on motherhood and recent jurisprudence on intervention in pregnancy. Given that “[w]e place law in a very privileged position” (Smart 111), in order to fully understand the ways in which Of Woman Born has influenced thinking about motherhood and pregnancy, it is necessary to consider the extent to which Rich’s perceptions are reflected within current legal thinking. For the purposes of this discussion, I focus on two decisions of the Supreme Court of Canada: Winnipeg Child and Family Services v. G. (1997) and Dobson (Litigation Guardian of ) v. Dobson (1999). In Winnipeg Child and Family Services, the majority of the court held that it did not have the authority to confine a pregnant woman to an addiction treatment center, while in Dobson the majority refused to allow a child to sue his mother for harms allegedly caused by her negligence during pregnancy. While not all the issues canvassed in Of Woman Born are relevant to my topic, certain aspects of Rich’s commentary on motherhood provide a useful perspective on both the majority and dissenting opinions in Winnipeg Child and Family Services and Dobson. In particular, the following themes from Of Woman Born reverberate, in one way or another, in these judgments: Rich’s analysis of the control that a patriarchal society exerts over women as they bear and rear children; her observation that society makes mothers almost entirely responsible for meeting the needs of children; her critique of society’s tendency either to idolize or despise women; and her attempts to find new ways of describing the nature of pregnancy. The connections that can be drawn between themes from Of Woman Born and jurisprudence of the Supreme Court of Canada are a testament to the impact that the writings of Rich and other feminists have had on the way in which motherhood and pregnancy are conceptualized.