All pregnant women will have the right to a caesarean section, even if there is no medical need, new guidelines from the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) will say when they are published next month.

Currently, a quarter of all babies are delivered by caesarean section, but women do not have the right to ask for one without a medical reason. However, according to the Sunday Times, the soon-to-be-published guidelines will say that caesareans are now so safe every woman should be given the choice to have one.

Dr Bryan Beattie, a consultant obstetrician who helped draw up the existing guidelines, said: "It is a huge development in terms of allowing women to make an informed choice.

"Ten or 15 years ago there may have been a better argument for saying no. But caesarean sections have become much safer. We have closed the gap to the extent that you really do have to bring in maternal choice as part of the decision-making process."

However, the proposals could be both expensive - costing an estimated £800 more than a natural birth - and controversial. Cathy Warwick, general secretary of the Royal College of Midwives, said offering the procedure without medical reasons was "inappropriate".

She said: "We are confident that when women are fully aware of the evidence they will not be asking for inappropriate caesarean sections."

Posted by Robert Mair