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This article examines the disrespectful, abusive and violent maternity care that many South African people face. It identifies this conduct as a human rights violation and argues that intentional abusive maternity care should be labelled as obstetric violence, a specific form of gender-based violence, and that it should be criminalised. This approach reflects a nascent global trend to act against obstetric violence, and draws inspiration from statutory crimes introduced in Venezuela and Mexico. Building on the Latin American experience, the article proposes how the current legal conception of obstetric violence should be further developed to suit the unique position of pregnant people in South Africa.