What's New
Articles and Reports
Ferguson, McKnight, Peppers, Whitner, Prosecution, Violence, Treatment
Suggested Reading
Related Links

Spanish translation:
Los Defensores Nacionales a.doc
(Word Doc)


For women in the United States, achieving the status of full citizen is an unfinished project. In the last century, important gains have been made on behalf of women's rights. Yet, under current Supreme Court precedent, discrimination on the basis of pregnancy is not prohibited "sex" discrimination under the Fourteenth Amendment. This is, by no means, the sole explanation for continuing discrimination against women. It is, however, a significant and little acknowledged fact that provides legal and political grounds for government institutions, employers, and health care providers to discriminate against women and limit their participation in society as full and equal citizens. A few examples:

While it is generally recognized that people have a right to bodily integrity and the right to procreate, women face an array of restrictions on their reproductive decision-making, from restriction on access to abortion services, to restrictions on alternative birthing practices to a wide variety of health and welfare polices that devalue and undermine motherhood for some women, including low income and women of color.

Although it is generally accepted that adults can decide what medical treatment they will or will not have - once a woman becomes pregnant others may be able to make that decision for her. Angela Carder was forced, against her will, to undergo surgery because it was believed it would help her fetus; in fact, it failed to save the fetus and contributed to her death. Pregnant women may be punished for informed refusal of HIV treatment and are often denied recommended forms of drug treatment. And, while many states now permit adults to determine whether and what treatment they will accept if they become critically ill or incompetent, some states exclude pregnant women from this right of self-determination.

Employers in some high-paying industrial jobs have told fertile women that they need not apply, claiming that these were fetal protection polices. Other employers have simply told women holding minimum wage jobs that they would lose their jobs if they became pregnant.

America's Drug Policy - Women's Rights Under Attack

Some of the starkest examples of the consequences of denying women full human rights involve the direct and severe punishment of pregnant, drug-using women. By combining claims of fetal rights with the war on drugs, new laws that punish pregnant women and families are being put into place. There is a consensus in the medical community that addiction is a public health issue and that treating drug use in pregnancy as a crime undermines the health of both women and children. Yet fetal rights advocates have convinced police, prosecutors, and judges to treat addiction as a form of abuse or neglect without regard for parenting ability. Like other applications of the war on drugs, the punishment of pregnant women is targeted at vulnerable, low-income, women of color; those with the least access to health care or legal defense.

In the last twenty years, over 200 pregnant women or new mothers have been arrested in a concerted effort to deny women liberty. At least nineteen states now address the issue of pregnant women's drug use in their civil child neglect laws, and many of these states make it possible to remove a child from the mother based on nothing more than a single positive drug test. These cases and statutes are having a devastating effect on public health efforts, as well as women's reproductive rights, drug policy reform efforts, and efforts for racial equality.

The National Advocates for Pregnant Women

The National Advocates for Pregnant Women (NAPW) is a non-profit organization dedicated to securing the human and civil rights, health and welfare of pregnant and parenting women, and furthering the interests of their families. NAPW seeks to ensure that women do not lose their constitutional and human rights as a result of pregnancy, that addiction and other health and welfare problems they face during pregnancy are addressed as health issues, not as crimes; that families are not needlessly separated, based on medical misinformation; and that pregnant and parenting women have access to a full range of reproductive health services, as well as non-punitive drug treatment services.

By focusing on the rights of pregnant women, including those who are continuing their pregnancies to term, we hope to broaden and strengthen the reproductive rights movement in America today. We also recognize that the issues of drug policy reform, race, and class in America are central to our work. Therefore, NAPW collaborates with a broad range of civil rights and progressive organizations for a more just society.

How NAPW Promotes Change

NAPW is the only organization that consistently communicates with both women's rights and drug policy advocates, reaching out, as well, to progressive leaders and activists at both the local and national level. NAPW works to protect and advance reproductive liberty and the rights of women through:

  • Litigation and litigation support challenging efforts to establish fetal rights under the law and to expand the war on drugs

  • Public education and a national clearinghouse that provides lawyers, activists, policy-makers, organizers and the media with essential information on case law, legislation, and social science data regarding the war on abortion and the war on drugs

  • Grassroots organizing supporting a model state-based program and working with women directly affected by punitive policies, sponsoring self-advocacy trainings, providing information and support, and working ensure that their voices are heard.

NAPW 2002 Annual Report

Lynn M. Paltrow, Executive Director
Wyndi M. Anderson, National Organizer

Board of Directors:
Maria Arias, JD, Professor CUNY School of Law*
Machelle Harris Allen, MD Director of Ambulatory Obstetrics and Gynecology, Bellevue Hospital*
Julie Chartoff, JD
Phillip Oliver Coffin, MIA, Project Dir., Center for Urban Epidemiologic Studies, N.Y. Academy of Medicine*
Maria Guarascio, JD
Sara Kershnar, MPH
Robert Newman, MD, MPH, Dir. of The Edmond de Rothschild Foundation Chemical Dependency Institute of Beth Israel Medical Center*
Ivan Zimmerman, J. D., General Counsel, WNYC*
Lynn M. Paltrow, JD

*For identification purposes only.

Contact Us

39 West 19th Street,
Suite 602,
New York, NY 10011-4225

office: 212-255-9252
fax: 212-255-9253


Last modified: 21 Mar 2006 Home ] [ Donate ] [ News ] [ Articles ] [ Activism ] [ Issues ] [ Links ]