Mother's Right



Mother's Right


Michelle Hartney,, IG @michellehartneyart

Michelle Hartney is a Chicago based interdisciplinary artist who works with fiber, installation, sculpture, performance, and the internet. Her practice focuses on women’s rights, maternal healthcare issues, and misogyny in art institutions. Hartney’s interest in using art to address social issues began during her graduate studies in art therapy at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where she was an Albert Schweitzer Fellow. In 2016 Hartney founded the Women's Health Collective, an art collective dedicated to utilizing creative approaches to raise awareness about women's health issues by linking artists, writers, musicians, and activists to work collaboratively on socially engaged projects.


Daley Plaza, 50 W Washington St, Chicago, IL 60602


Created: Labor Day, September 7, 2015; Documented: September 7, 2015


Photographer: Nadia Oussenko


"Mother’s Right is an installation and performance piece about the United States high maternal mortality rate and postpartum PTSD. America is the most expensive and the most dangerous place in the developed world to have a baby. Black women are three to four times more likely to die in childbirth than Caucasian women. Maternal healthcare in the United States is in crisis .

Along with local midwives, doulas, and volunteers, we sewed 1,200 hospital gowns, one for every mother who died in childbirth in America in 2013. The fabric was silk-screened to look like hospital gown fabric, composed of tiny drawings created of the plant derivatives of the drugs that have been used on laboring women for the past 150 years.

For the performance, several pairs of women stood facing each other folding the gowns into triangles; similar to the way the American flag is folded at the funeral of a soldier. The traditional flag folding ceremony includes twelve symbolic folds, with the ninth fold symbolizing womanhood. These hospital gowns have been cut to a length that allows the fabric to stop on the ninth fold. The folded gowns represent not only the 1,200 women who died during childbirth in the United States in 2013, but also the women who have suffered abuse at the hands of obstetricians and nurses, and for the increasing number of women who are being diagnosed with postpartum PTSD after giving birth." -Michelle Hartney


"This installation/performance is a monument to maternal mortality and postpartum PTSD. One hospital gown was sewn for every person who died giving birth in the United States in 2013. A total of 1,200 hospital gowns were hand silk screen printed and sewn.

It took place at the site of the non-profit Improving Birth’s Labor Day Rally to improve birth." -Michelle Hartney


Birth Rights Movement

"The United States spends three times more money on childbirth than Great Britain, yet our maternal mortality rate is over three times higher. According to the World Health Organization, since 1995, the maternal mortality rate in the United States has increased 250%. Among these numbers, Black women are four times more likely to die during childbirth than Caucasian women. The United States' maternal mortality rate is ranked at the bottom of all developed countries globally. In 2013, eight countries reported an increase in maternal mortality rates: Afghanistan, Belize, El Salvador, Guinea-Bissau, Greece, Seychelles, South Sudan, and the United States—which was the only developed country on the list.

In addition, many US women are victims of obstetric abuse. When a woman enters a hospital to deliver a baby, often her right to informed consent is thrown out the window. Women are verbally abused, denied food, forced into having their perineum cut, are forcibly restrained during labor, and even forced into court ordered c-sections. Fear mongering, 'dead baby' threats, and bullying are used to force women into unnecessary interventions that are not backed by medical research are frighteningly common. This often leads to a 'cascade of interventions,' which many times results in an emergency c-section that otherwise would have been unnecessary. Currently, one in three women in the United States give birth via c-section. The World Health Organization suggests that the best outcomes for both women and babies, will result from a drastically lower cesarean section rate of no higher than 10-15%.

According to Improving Birth, evidence-based care is defined as 'care that’s based on best science and individual needs—not arbitrary opinion, hospital tradition, or profit-based policies.' These forced and often unnecessary, non-evidence based interventions can lead to postpartum PTSD and postpartum depression. According to two studies, one published by researchers at Montreal’s McGill University and another performed at the University of Tel Aviv in Israel, it was found that one in three women suffer from some elements of PTSD after giving birth, and PTSD is diagnosed in 3-7% of laboring women.

According to the birth rights organization 'Improving Birth,' 'over 40% of U.S. hospitals have mandatory surgery policies for women with prior Cesareans, 60% of U.S. women are not allowed to eat or drink during labor, and 76% of women are not allowed out of bed when in labor.'" -Michelle Hartney



This was a self-sanctioned project I produced myself and the gowns are currently in storage in my studio. I did get a permit from the city to do the installation and performance.




Artist: Michelle Hartney,; Photographer: Nadia Oussenko