Risk and intersectional power relations: an exploration of the implications of early COVID-19 pandemic responses for pregnant women

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The World Health Organization and many national health authorities identifie pregnant women as requiring extra protections during the COVID-19 global pandemic. Nevertheless, many initial responses to the COVID-19 pandemic were implemented in ways that have disrupted the care and support women receive and provide during pregnancy. In this article, I apply an intersectional approach to explore the unintended implications of discourses and practices targeting universal risks of COVID-19 for pregnant women. I discuss three overlapping topics. First, pandemic responses that aimed to negate the universal risk of COVID-19 transmission created obstacles to maternal health care that disproportionately impacted low-income women and regions. For example, rapidly changing public health mandates that were intended to protect the population from the universal threat of COVID-19 have produced unintended results of restricting public transportation, and consequently, access to maternal care. Second, overly precautious healthcare practices aimed at protecting foetuses and new-borns from possible risks can harm women and their new-borns. Recommendations, such as separating women from their new-borns at birth to prevent the spread of COVID-19, are shown to be often entangled with racism and colonialism. Third, in neoliberal contexts, dominant discourses have constructed privileged women as ‘normal’ in a way that responsibilised all women to minimise health risks for their foetuses. Such recommendations ignore inequalities in women’s living conditions and ability to follow public health advice about COVID-19. I argue that responses to COVID-19 were (dis)organised within pre-existing economic, racial, colonial, and patriarchal power relations that disadvantaged some pregnant women more than others.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)321-338
Number of pages18
JournalHealth, Risk and Society
Issue number7-8
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • intersectionality
  • pandemic responses
  • pregnancy
  • risk
  • risk management


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