On Wednesday evening June 26, 2013, approximately 50 people attended an Indianapolis forum sponsored by a dozen local and national organizations.
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JANUARY 12, 2013
The elections are over, but the fight for pregnant women's personhood is not.
With NAPW's electricity back on after Hurricane Sandy and the elections over, there is much to celebrate and even more to do. As the New York Times editorial the day after the election warned: No one should expect a post election letup in the continuing courtroom fights over state efforts to restrict women's access to safe and legal abortions. National Advocates for Pregnant Women knows that this continuing, post-election fight extends to all pregnant women, not just those seeking to terminate a pregnancy.
Eleanor Bader discusses how NAPW's legal work broadens the debate beyond pro-life versus pro-choice and challenges both sides to come together to stand-up for the basic human rights of ALL women, a pro-lives movement.
Read her article here.
We are very happy to report that, with NAPW's help, Ms. Shuai is finally out of the jail cell that she was held in for over a year. Make no mistake, however, Ms. Shuai is far from free.
This weekend, National Advocates for Pregnant Women's work and perspectives are featured in the New York Times Magazine. The story, The Criminalization of Bad Mothers, focuses on pregnant drug using women who are being prosecuted under Alabama's Chemical Endangerment Act - a law intended to punish adults who bring children to environments where illegal drugs are being made.
This break-through story makes clear that there is no middle ground between these sorts of prosecutions and establishing legal principles that would deprive every mother "good or bad" of her fundamental constitutional and human rights, including the right to choose abortion. In the story, Troy Newman, president of the anti-abortion group Operation Rescue admits that prosecutions of pregnant women "could ultimately get the anti-abortion movement where it wants to go."
TIME Magazine reinforces these connections in their story, Drug Addiction, 'Personhood' and the War on Women.
NAPW has long recognized that bringing pro-choice, birthing rights, criminal justice, and drug policy reform movements together could get us where we want to go - guaranteeing that all women, regardless of their circumstances, are treated like human beings and guaranteed access to respectful reproductive health and maternity care. NAPW wants to ensure that pregnant women do not become new fodder for America's massive system of incarceration.
The NYTimes story also stands out for its reliance on real experts who challenge prevailing myths about addiction and the war on drugs. To simplify a complex medical and psychosocial issue into a criminal issue is really just like using a hammer to play the piano, says Dr. Deborah Frank, a pediatrician and director of Boston Medical Center's Grow Clinic for Children.
The story has already garnered more than 600 comments on-line. We know there are compassionate people throughout the country who understand that fundamental rights should not depend on whether someone labels you "good" or "bad." Please make a donation to support NAPW's courageous work defending women and families and please March with us this Saturday, April 28th.
Time to Take Action! March with NAPW April 28th and May 1st for Reproductive Justice
Why is this Spring different from other Springs? Why in this season are we marching twice when sometimes we do not march at all? We march twice because the grassroots are rising and it is time to assemble and protest against the attacks on women and for Reproductive Justice.
Legibility is really important when making signs! How we do it:
If you follow National Advocates for Pregnant Women on Facebook and Twitter, you already know that Katha Pollitt has written an important article for The Nation magazine: Protect Pregnant Women: Free Bei Bei Shuai.
We hope you will read the article and take action: Please sign this Change.org petition demanding Ms. Shuai’s freedom.
Numerous organizations and leaders who identify themselves as “pro-life” have assured the public that their efforts to re-criminalize abortion and establish the unborn as separate legal persons will not result in the arrest of women who end their pregnancies. But women are already being arrested. With your help, NAPW is fighting back.
An article in the Globe and Mail, fans the flames of "pill-baby" hysteria. NAPW ally and renowned expert on treating opioid-dependence during pregnancy, Dr. Robert Newman, takes the article to task for its biased portrayal of opioid users and their babies.
We are still celebrating the fact that Mississippians soundly rejected the so-called “personhood” measure that would have given fertilized eggs, embryos, and fetuses separate legal rights. We know that when people understand that fetal separatist measures hurt all pregnant women, they mobilize. But prosecutors are still trying to use the courts to put into place the same kinds of personhood measures – only in disguise.
Yesterday, Mississippians rejected (58-42) Proposition 26 that would have recognized fertilized eggs, embryos, and fetuses as separate legal persons under Mississippi law. Put another way, yesterday, 58% of Mississippians supported and reaffirmed the constitutional personhood of pregnant women.
We say this because NAPW knows that so-called personhood measures, as well as more subtle but just as dangerous feticide laws and anti-abortion legislation, are all ultimately designed to deprive pregnant women of their status as full persons under the law.
On November 8th, 2011, Mississippians will vote on Proposition 26, a ballot measure that, if passed, would alter the state constitution, redefining the word “person” to include every human being from the moment of fertilization. While similar measures were defeated in Colorado by wide margins, in 2008 and again in 2010, many people worry that this measure will pass easily in Mississippi.
What few - in Mississippi or beyond - anticipated was the strong grassroots opposition that has emerged against the proposition. This week, National Advocates for Pregnant Women’s newest staff attorney, Allison Korn, published a commentary in RHReality Check describing the amazing grassroots rising there.
A recent post on RH Reality Check highlights what cuts to medicaid funding may look like, particularly for pregnant patients. Lynn Paltrow and Linda Layne, author of Motherhood Lost: A Feminist Account of Pregnancy Loss in America, discuss the broader implications of medicalizing miscarriage.
cross-posted to RH Reality Check
Last week, the Washington Post’s On Faith blog ran a post in its Guest Voices series which posed the question of whether abortion is always morally wrong, and whether “religious conservatives really believe God gives them permission to pretend this world is far simpler than it is.”
Martha Woodroof defended the morality of abortion by describing her experience of visiting babies that she describes as “addicted” in a Neonatial Intensive Care Unit. If only religious conservatives could see these “damaged” babies, she argues, they would realize that abortion is not always morally wrong. Ironically, by implying that these babies would be better off not having been born than “birthed by addicts incapable of raising them,” she engages in the same oversimplification she criticizes. She perpetuates shame and stigma, blaming women rather than critically examining inequality, lack of drug treatment or compassion for drug users, or conventional wisdom on drugs, pregnancy, and parenting.
After facing widespread criticism and condemnation (including an open letter from Lynn Paltrow, NAPW, ED) for their decision to block Tony Kushner from receiving an honorary degree from John Jay College- the CUNY executive committee reversed their original vote. Mr. Kushner will now accept the honorary degree from CUNY along with Lynn Paltrow and Judge Judith Kaye.
I understand that, on Monday, the Executive Committee of the Board of Trustees will meet to reconsider the Board's decision to table the motion to approve awarding an honorary degree to Tony Kushner. As another candidate for an honorary degree from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, I am glad that this meeting will take place and hope that the Committee will reverse its decision.
Many of us receiving honorary degrees hold controversial views. Such views often inspire social change and bring about justice, or at the very least, encourage critical thinking that should be the hallmark of a college education.
John Jay students are themselves inspiring. These students deserve the opportunity to meet, even from afar, a Pulitzer Prize winning playwright who has been instrumental in bringing attention to major social justice issues.
As the Executive Committee reconsiders its decision, I hope they will also keep in mind that, when a member suggests that any group of people is “not human,” it is likely that he is speaking about at least some of John Jay College’s richly diverse student body.
John Jay’s graduating class of 2011 represents an extraordinary group of people. Virtually all of these students earned their degrees while working, raising and supporting families, and participating in internships. These students and the recognition of their achievements, not grandstanding about the Middle East or anything else, should be the focus of the Committee’s work.
Lynn M. Paltrow, JD
cc: President Jeremy Travis, faculty and students of John Jay College of Criminal Justice
Lynn Paltrow responds to Saturday's NYT story on newborns withdrawing from drugs. Newly Born, and Withdrawing from Pain Killers relies on anecdotes and innuendo to focus attention on pregnant drug users rather than actual facts, lessons learned, or the real economic and ethical issues that need to be addressed.
As NAPW’s newest commentary in RH Reality Check and the Huffington Post makes clear, state laws treating fertilized eggs, embryos, and fetuses as legally separate from the pregnant women who carry, nurture, and sustain them creates the basis for denying pregnant women their personhood and their right to be treated like other human beings.
On March 15th 2011, I will be receiving the Margaret Sanger Woman of Valor Award at Planned Parenthood of New York City’s Spring Luncheon. That is, if there is still a Planned Parenthood by then.
As you may know, Congress and state legislatures across the country are making women, especially pregnant women, the focus of their legislative activity . . . but not in a good way. Rather than propose legislation that would, for example, reduce America’s appalling rates of maternal and infant mortality, provide paid leave for parents (as pretty much every other western industrialized country does), or address the real economic problems that working families face, federal and state legislators are proposing bills that would deprive pregnant women of their constitutional and human rights.
Join us as we stand with Planned Parenthood of New York City to ensure reproductive justice, health, and dignity for all pregnant women.
Dear Sarah Palin,
I am writing today about how you are responding to and how you will respond to the assassination attempt on Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and the murders of six other people.
By way of introduction and background, I am a cousin of Congresswoman Giffords. I am also an ally of Dr. George Tiller, the Kansas doctor who provided abortion services and who was assassinated on May 31, 2009.
In 2010, we advocated, educated and organized to ensure that pregnant women, no less than other people, are protected by the rule of law and treated with dignity.
We believe that a pregnant teenager who experiences a stillbirth deserves dignity and the power of a broad coalition behind her.
That is why when NAPW and Mississippi counsel Rob McDuff and Carrie Jourdan filed the opening briefs in Rennie Gibbs' case in the Mississippi Supreme Court, we didn’t do it alone. Five amicus briefs representing 70 local, state, national, and international organizations were filed in support of Ms. Gibbs, and in support of dignity, human rights, and the health of women and children. We want to highlight for you this spectacular collaborative effort.
This week, voters in Colorado once again rejected an effort to amend the Colorado state constitution to grant eggs, embryos, and fetuses separate, legal status from the pregnant women who carry, nurture, and sustain them. In the week leading up to the vote , NAPW released a commentary, PersonhoodUSA's Radical, Fetal-Separatist Agenda published on both RH Reality Check and the Huffington Post. Here is what we had to say:
In 2008, Amanda K. was six months pregnant and went into early labor with a prolapsed umbilical cord. She went to a local hospital for care where she underwent emergency cesarean surgery to facilitate delivery of her son. Unfortunately, her son, delivered prematurely, died shortly after delivery.
We are happy to report that the Appellate Division of the Superior Court of New Jersey has ruled in favor of VM in New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services vs. V.M. and B.G.. In the Matter of J.M.G.
In this case, a VM's refusal to sign a consent form for cesarean surgery led to hospital interventions and a report of abuse to child welfare authorities.
MONTGOMERY, ALABAMA- On Friday, attorneys asked the court for permission to file an amicus curiae (friend-of-the-court) brief in the case A.K. v. Alabama (Docket: CR-09-0485) on behalf of twenty-four public health advocates, organizations and experts. This public health brief has been filed in support of A.K., who was convicted under Alabama’s chemical endangerment law because she attempted to carry her pregnancy to term in spite of a drug problem.
I am thrilled to let you know that the Kentucky Supreme Court once again refused to advance the war on drugs to women's wombs and made clear that pregnant women, no less than other persons, are protected by the rule of law. By refusing to accept the prosecution's argument that the "unborn" should be legally disconnected from the pregnant women who carry them and treated as if they were separate legal persons, this decision protects the civil and reproductive rights and health of all women in Kentucky.
National Advocates for Pregnant Women (NAPW) works on behalf of all pregnant women including pregnant women who have been arrested and charged with child abuse or some other crime because they continued a pregnancy to term in spite of a drug problem. These pregnant women are particularly unpopular. Liked or disliked, misunderstood or understood, their cases have huge legal implications for all pregnant women- potentially setting devastating precedent that could establish special, separate legal rights for the fetus and the basis for punishing all pregnant women, including those who suffer miscarriages.
(C.R.A.C.K is currently called Project Prevention).
On the surface, CRACK’s goals don’t necessarily seem dangerous or objectionable. For example they say that “The program is completely voluntary for participants,” and that their mission is “to empower the active or recovering addict with the ability and freedom to control their lives.” Statement, by their founder and director, Barbara Harris however make clear that control, not empowerment, is in fact CRACK’s primary purpose.
It's not too late to register for this phenomenal continuing professional education opportunity, presented by National Advocates for Pregnant Women, with New York University's School of Law & The NYU Silver School of Social Work.
When: Thursday, April 29, 2010 (half day program 12p-5p)
Where: NYU School of Law, 40 Washington Square South, Manhattan
Continuing Education Credits in the areas of Law, Social Work & CASAC will be offered.
4.5 CLE credits in "Ethics and Professionalism"
4.0 Hours CASAC Section II
4.0 Hours CPP Section I
4.0 Hours CPS Section I
5.0 CEU Social Work
Overall, the bill signed today is a huge victory for pregnant women, mothers and families. Nevertheless, much is being said about the abortion restrictions in the legislation and President Obama’s Executive Order.
Whether this historic health care reform maintains the injustice of existing anti-abortion restrictions or makes them worse really depends on the extent to which the mainstream pro-choice movement takes this experience as an opportunity to develop more effective political strategies.
I hope that Amnesty International’s Report, Deadly Delivery The Maternal Health Care Crisis in the USA, will get extensive coverage. It is a document that talks about "the right to life" as something that applies to pregnant women and new mothers. It makes clear that inadequate prenatal care is a sign of government failure, not a reason to urine drug test a pregnant woman. And, it clarifies that the real threats to maternal/fetal/child health are from failed government polices, not pregnant women or legal abortion.
On Thursday, a Utah legislator withdrew a bill that would allow sentences of up to life in prison for a woman who experiences a miscarriage or stillbirth as a result of her "reckless" behavior. This move has been attributed to a "firestorm" of opposition. Almost immediately, however, Utah legislators revised the bill to exempt women who commit reckless acts but permit the prosecution of women who commit "knowing" acts that may result in stillbirths and miscarriages from the earliest stages of pregnancy.
NAPW has been busy working with friends and allies to make clear that new prosecutions and new policy proposals are once again threatening to put pregnant women and new mothers behind bars. As our commentary, "Caution: Pregnancy May be Hazardous to Your Liberty", in today's Huffington Post and on RH Reality Check explains:
While pregnant women have yet to be recognized as full persons under the Constitution, and while anti-abortion groups push relentlessly for recognition of fetal personhood under the Constitution, the U.S. Supreme Court has taken a significant step towards recognizing corporate personhood under the Constitution by extending First Amendment free speech protections to corporations seeking to influence elections. The 5-4 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission overturned approximately 100 years of precedents and reminds us, on this 37th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, that no constitutional precedent is secure.
According to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, while both male and female reindeer grow antlers in the summer each year, male reindeer drop their antlers at the beginning of winter, usually late November to mid-December. Female reindeer retain their antlers till after they give birth in the spring.
Therefore, according to EVERY historical rendition depicting Santa's reindeer, EVERY single one of them, from Rudolph to Blitzen, had to be a female. And probably pregnant.
Best Wishes to All for the New Year!
Lynn and the Staff of NAPW
Tomorrow, December 10, 2009 the Kentucky Supreme Court will hear oral argument in a case involving the prosecution of a pregnant, drug-using woman. It is an important opportunity to understand the broader issues at stake in cases that seem narrowly focused on the very small percentage of pregnant women who use illegal drugs. Oral argument is scheduled for 10 AM and you will be able to watch a live stream of the arguments by clicking this link
Last weekend I saw the movie Precious. This movie, about "an overweight, illiterate teen who is pregnant with her second child" is a soaring tribute to human dignity and, for me, captures the reasons why NAPW takes the cases we do.
Recently, NAPW chose to work on behalf of R.G. -- an African American teenager from Mississippi who became pregnant when she was fifteen. She suffered a stillbirth one month after turning sixteen. What was the state's response? They arrested her and charged her with murder.
NAPW learned about the case shortly before R.G. was scheduled to go on trial as an adult. We learned that her mother's efforts to obtain help from other organizations had been rebuffed. NAPW reached out to her local counsel and offered our assistance.
After much deliberation by our esteemed panel of expert judges, the winners of NAPW’s first law student writing contest have been selected. Co-sponsored by 19 organizations and individuals, this contest was designed to advance feminist legal scholarship on the subject of pregnant women’s civil and human rights. Specifically, it asked law students to address the statutory, constitutional, and/or human rights arguments that can be made to challenge the trend of banning pregnant women from having a vaginal birth after a caesarean section (VBAC). The subject of the contest is particularly timely. Recently, the story of Joy Szabo, an Arizona mother forced to travel over 300 miles from home in an effort to avoid unnecessary surgery, has been the subject of both local and national media attention. Even CNN covered the story —raising unprecedented awareness of the fact that VBAC is unattainable at nearly half of all U.S. hospitals due to either explicit policies or lack of willing providers.
NAPW and co-sponsors hoped this contest would encourage a new generation of legal scholars to address birthing issues as proper subjects of academic research and legal action. We are proud to announce the winners of this cutting-edge contest:
On Friday, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eight Circuit (the federal level appellate court that reviews decisions from federal district courts in North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, Nebraska, Missouri, Minnesota, and Arkansas) issued the long-awaited decision in Nelson v. Norris. In this case, Shawanna Nelson argued that being forced to go through the final stages of labor with both legs shackled to her hospital bed was cruel and unusual punishment, in violation of the 8th Amendment to the Constitution. She argued that she should be allowed to sue the director of the prison and the guard who repeatedly re-shackled her legs to the bed. Ms. Nelson, an African-American woman, was incarcerated for non-violent offenses of credit card fraud and "hot checks."
In the aftermath of Dr. George Tiller's murder many people have asked whether anti-abortion rhetoric constitutes "hate speech" or an "incitement to terrorism." This rhetoric includes language describing abortion as a form of violence, as torture, an attack on innocent life, executing a child, killing, baby-killing, murder, child murder, mass murder, like slavery, a genocide, a holocaust, worse than any holocaust.
But whether or not it is hate speech, and whether or not it can be linked directly to the murder of Dr. Tiller and other abortion providers, it is language that reveals a frightening degree of anger, disrespect for and hostility not only to the people who perform abortions but also to those who have abortions -- pregnant women.
NAPW's video "How Personhood USA & The Bills They Support Will Hurt ALL Pregnant Women" and an earlier version that both appeared on the Huffingtonpost.com are attracting the attention of anti-abortion organizations who advance Personhood Measures across the country. These measures would grant "unborn" life, from the moment of fertilizations, full personhood status under state constitutional law. Such measures would not only be used as a basis for ending the right to choose an abortion, they would also provide a basis for depriving pregnant women going to term of their rights to liberty, bodily integrity, medical decision-making and even life.
Last week, a mid-level court of appeals in NJ avoided deciding the question of whether or not a pregnant woman's decision-making during labor and childbirth may be the basis for a finding, under state civil child welfare laws, of abuse and neglect. While the decision is a victory of sorts, it nevertheless reveals how extraordinarily unsettled and contested pregnant women's rights are.
NAPW and More than 100 Signatories Request That Supreme Court Confirmation Hearings Consider Impact on All Pregnant Women
On June 22, 2009 National Advocates for Pregnant Women (NAPW) released to the public a letter with more than 100 signatories sent to the Judiciary Committee of the United States Senate requesting that the Committee ask Judge Sonia Sotomayor and all future Supreme Court nominees: Is there a point in pregnancy when you believe women lose their civil rights? This letter, discussed in Rachel Roth's RhRealityCheck Commentary, addresses the harm that will result if abortion is outlawed and provides concrete examples of civil rights violations against pregnant women that undermine both maternal and fetal health and that would occur routinely if Roe v. Wade were overturned.
"Review of both civil and criminal cases since Roe v. Wade makes clear that what is at stake in each nomination to the Supreme Court is not only the right to choose abortion," said Lynn M. Paltrow, Founder and Executive Director of NAPW, "but also the fundamental issue of whether or not pregnant women are recognized as full Constitutional persons under the law."
This morning, National Advocates for Pregnant Women and Center for HIV Law and Policy, and Elizabeth Frankel and Valerie Wright of the Maine law firm Verrill Dana, LLP, filed an emergency amicus (friend-of-the-court) brief on behalf of 28 public health experts, advocates, and organizations challenging the imprisonment of an HIV positive pregnant woman in order to protect her “innocent” “unborn child.”
Ms. T, a 28 year-old woman from Cameroon, was arrested in January 2009 for allegedly having false immigration documents. Shortly after her arrest, she learned she was both pregnant and HIV positive. On May 14, 2009, instead of sentencing her to “time served,” which was consistent with the federal sentencing guidelines and the recommendations of her attorney and the United States Attorney’s Office, United States District Court Judge John Woodcock extended Ms. T’s sentence to 238 days, making clear that the sentence was calculated specifically to ensure that she remained incarcerated for the duration of her pregnancy. See Judge Jails Pregnant Woman Until Baby is Born and Behind Bars for Being Pregnant and HIV-Positive.
On May 31, 2009, Dr. George Tiller was murdered. When I think of Dr. Tiller and his clinic I think of compassion. What Dr. Tiller and his staff did each and every day was to give women their dignity.
Barely two weeks ago, when President Obama gave the commencement address at Notre Dame he said, 'As citizens of a vibrant and varied democracy, how do we engage in vigorous debate? How does each of us remain firm in our principles, and fight for what we consider right, without demonizing those with just as strongly held convictions on the other side?'
Upon Dr. Tiller's death, Randall Terry, the founder of the anti-abortion group Operation Rescue who led protests against Tiller's clinic in 1991, issued a statement saying in part, 'I am more concerned that the Obama Administration will use Tiller's killing to intimidate pro-lifers into surrendering our most effective rhetoric and actions.' This rhetoric includes describing Dr. Tiller as 'a mass-murderer' and abortion as a kind of 'slaughter.' It also includes describing Dr. Tiller, as Bill O'Reilly did, as 'guilty of Nazi stuff.'
This rhetoric of 'mass murder' and 'slaughter,' killing and genocide, all commonly used by a variety of religious and political organizations that oppose abortion, is language that is demonizing and dangerous. Is this really how we think of women who have abortions, some lucky enough to do so with the support of caring doctors? Do we really believe that pregnant women who end their pregnancies and the health care providers who help them are no different from Hitler or Pol Pot? Do we really think that the individual decisions of pregnant women are the same as, or as claimed by some groups, worse than, government-sponsored genocide?
Notre Dame University's invitation to President Obama to give the commencement speech this year has aroused significant controversy. NAPW's commentary about this issue now appears in the Huffingtonpost.com and also on RhRealitycheck.
The USCCB says that its political positions are based on the belief that “all human life is sacred." They cite this quotation from Archbishop John Roach, as the expression of their guiding vision: "We are committed to full legal recognition of the right to life of the unborn child, and will not rest in our efforts until society respects the inherent worth and dignity of every member of the human race." Yet an examination of the USCCB’s public positions in two high profile legal cases, described in a chart NAPW developed, raises a key question: Does the USCCB believe that all human life – except that of pregnant women -- is sacred?
Last week the Huffingtonpost and RhRealitycheck ran our latest commentary Concerned about coerced abortion? Try saying no to Cesarean Surgery, discussing legislation in twelve states that claims to protect pregnant women from coercion when they seek abortions but ignores real evidence of the fact that women in labor and childbirth are too often denied the opportunity to make fully informed decisions. We hope that you will read the commentary and spread the word. NAPW is also proud to let you know that we have been nominated for the Our Bodies Ourselves Women's Health Hero. You can vote for us, or just enjoy reading all of the nominations, including those of many of our allies and friends.
Kate Jack, NAPW's newest staff attorney, has been invited to blog for the American Constitution Society. Her first blog, Federal Appeals Court, States Reexamining Shackling of Pregnant Inmates, discusses our work on behalf of pregnant, imprisoned women. We have also just posted a new Youtube video: Challenging The Myths: Pregnant Women, Crack, & Healthy Children who Succeed. Watch the fabulous Mary Barr answer the question: What kind of kids & teens do children prenatally exposed to cocaine turn out to be?
In Indiana, we helped to get a felony child neglect charge dismissed against Brooke Honaker who carried her pregnancy to term in spite of a drug problem. This case was originally discussed in a news article that highlighted NAPW's work on behalf of drug-using pregnant women. NAPW prepared a memo for local counsel demonstrating that Indiana precedent (some of which our staff helped establish years ago) clearly barred the neglect charge against Ms. Honaker. Local defense counsel, Mr. Jon Owen, used this information in a motion to dismiss. We are happy to report that the court granted the motion.
This case and many like it make clear the need for and value of NAPW's persistence and vigilance.
NAPW is proud to let you know that our work helped get a felony neglect charge dismissed against an Indiana woman who carried her pregnancy to term in spite of a drug problem. After Brooke Honaker tested positive for methamphetamine while pregnant, she was charged with felony neglect of a dependent. She was drug tested as part of her pre-existing probation. The prosecutor filed the neglect charge despite a clear precedent in Indiana establishing that the neglect of a dependent statute does not apply to the context of pregnancy. See Herron v. State, 729 N.E.2d 1008 (Ind. Ct. App. 2000). The Honaker case was originally discussed in a news article that highlighted NAPW's work on behalf of drug using pregnant women.
Contrary to the assumptions made in the article and underlying the arrest, methamphetamine use during pregnancy has not been found to create unique harms, or harms greater than exposure to such things as cigarettes. A discussion of this research by Dr. Barry Lester, available as part of an NPR report on an Oklahoma case, can be access by clicking here.
NAPW prepared a memo for local counsel showing that Indiana precedent (some of which our staff helped establish years ago) clearly applied in this case and barred the neglect charge against Ms. Honaker. Even though there was no legal basis for this arrest, the prosecutor refused to drop the charge even after being advised of the controlling precedent. Local counsel, Mr. Jon Owen persisted in defending Ms. Honaker. He used the information in our memo and filed a motion to dismiss. We are happy to report that the court granted it.
This case is a great example of the need for and value of NAPW's persistence and vigilance in maintaining gains already achieved. It is also a terrific example of good legal defense work. Congratulations to Mr. Owen.
This case also illustrates that in spite of the absence of laws authorizing these arrests and, in cases like this, court decisions explicitly banning such charges, prosecutors continue bring these cases. Women like Ms. Honaker are not only charged with a non-existent crime, they experience a traumatizing arrest, detention, and lengthy legal battle while often failing to get the drug treatment they may need.
We knew that our recent commentary and video that challenges PersonhoodUSA was likely to draw fire from the Right. We were not mistaken. Shortly after releasing our video and commentary, Andrea Lafferty, President of the Traditional Values Coalition, wrote a response seeking to discredit National Advocates for Pregnant Women by "exposing" our work on behalf of drug using pregnant women.
We, however, are grateful to Ms. Lafferty for providing us with a fantastic opportunity to educate the public about the possibilities for common ground, and to bring more attention to our newest video featuring award-winning pediatrician Deborah A. Frank, debunking the "crack baby" and other drug related myths. On March 30, 2009 the Huffingtonpost ran our new commentary, Do People Who Support "Traditional Values" Value Pregnant Women? with a link to the video.
The video is a very useful teaching tool. Please share it widely with policy makers, students, health care providers, medical and child welfare administrators, advocates, and allies.
In spite of, or perhaps more accurately because of, the recent elections, anti-choice activists are gearing up. Legislators in five states have introduced "personhood" bills that would grant the "unborn" from the moment of fertilization state constitutional rights. Bills have already passed in the North Dakota Assembly and in the Montana Senate. Today Huffingtonpost.com posted our blog about the bills and personhood USA. Cindy Copper on her Words of Choice blog (and picked up by RHrealitycheck.org) has this to say about the NAPW video:
What's really great is that NAPW stepped out of the policy-wonk bubble and used a little creativity to describe in clear and factually accurate terms what can sometimes seem obscure or complex. When the propaganda of the anti-choicers is sliced away, it's pretty simple -- these "personhood" laws would benefit no one and be a disaster for women... With its video, NAPW is also spreading its communications sensibilities -- and in especially admirable ways.
Don't forget to check out the video and the commentaries
Today's New York Times story, The Epidemic That Wasn't, advances our efforts to challenge the junk science that has been used to justify the prosecution and punishment of pregnant women and their families. We are very pleased that many of the experts quoted in the story are speaking at our upcoming February 11, 2009 program: Drugs, Pregnancy and Parenting: What the Experts in Medicine, Social Work and the Law Have to Say.
While I wish the story appeared 20 years ago, it gets an awful lot right. One thing it got wrong though is the caption to the picture accompanying the story. The caption for the photo describes it as "a 1988 photo, testing a baby addicted to cocaine." Ahh, the intransigence of misinformation. It is ironic indeed, that the story, designed to debunk much of the junk science and media hype with regard to the effects of prenatal exposure to drugs, includes rank misinformation in the picture caption. In 2004, every leading researcher in the field joined a letter to none other than the New York Times and other media outlets asking them to stop using the term "crack baby" and specifically explaining that:
The term “crack addicted baby” is no less defensible. Addiction is a technical term that refers to compulsive behavior that continues in spite of adverse consequences. By definition, babies cannot be “addicted” to crack or anything else. In utero physiologic dependence on opiates (not addiction), known as Neonatal Narcotic Abstinence Syndrome, is readily diagnosed, but no such symptoms have been found to occur following prenatal cocaine exposure."
I also have to point out that the story suggests that the prosecution of pregnant women ended in the new millennium. We really wish that were true.
Finally, in conjunction with our upcoming program, NAPW has posted a lecture by Judy Murphy, founder of Moms Off Meth. The video quality is not the best, but the information is so clear, accessible and important, that anyone interested in learning how we can really help pregnant women and families will watch and listen.
Hope to see you on February 11!
For any of you who check on the NAPW blog, you will notice that it is not so much a blog as an occasional commentary or notice. Today you are in for a change.
Almost every day there is something in the newspaper (yes I still actually get some of my news from things that are published with ink on newsprint) that connects to NAPW’s work. Here are two thoughts for the day.
For a long time I have been troubled by an interview posted on Youtube with one, Dr. Paul McHugh, a psychiatrist hired by the state of Kansas to go after George Tiller, a Kansas doctor who provides much needed abortion services. Families, many of whom would describe themselves as pro-life, go to his clinic for help from all over the United States. Dr. McHugh was hired as part of an effort to prevent Dr. Tiller from providing these services. In the interview, Dr. McHugh claims that there is never ever, even possibly a psychological need for an abortion.
As is often the case in the abortion debate, this interview also serves as a vehicle for other political messages and agendas. Very often that agenda includes reinforcing the mythology of government care – the idea that services and support are readily available to people -- if only they would go out and get it. So for example, Dr. McHugh asserts, in this interview that "after all, in our country, the resources for psychiatric services and psychological services are rich." Really?
An op ed in today’s New York Times addressing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder for soldiers returning from Iraq reports that “Less than 40 percent of service members who get a diagnosis of P.T.S.D. receive mental health services, and only slightly more than half of recent veterans who receive treatment get adequate care. Those who seek follow-up treatment run into delays of up to 90 days, which suggests there is a serious shortage of mental health professionals available to help them.”
So if even our soldiers can’t get the psychological care they need -- it is hard to believe that pregnant women -- many of whom are poor, many of whom lack health insurance, and virtually none of whom have insurance that covers mental health services -- will find our country "rich" in psychological services.
Here is another one. Although no law in Alabama permits the prosecution of a woman who continues her pregnancy to term in spite of a drug problem, a local prosecutor has decided to make his own law. He claims that the state’s chemical endangering law – a law designed to deter and punish the creation of things like methamphetamine labs – should be judicially expanded to apply to pregnant women in relationship to the fetuses they carries. (A pregnant woman = a methamphetamine manufacturing and processing plant?) Although every leading public health and child welfare group to address this issue thinks this approach will undermine both maternal and fetal health, this prosecutor asserts that imprisoning pregnant women will somehow protect their children.
So the other day I was reading about Alabama county jails. Public experts generally agree that good nutrition is important to achieving healthy pregnancies. Turns out though that by law Alabama provides a state food allowance of only $1.75 per prisoner per day. Just to give you an idea of how little that is – I learned from Paul Krugman’s column today that the cost of a free school lunch for a poor child is $2.57. A single very low cost meal per day is $2.75—but the state of Alabama will protect its future children by imprisoning pregnant women and feeding them for an entire day on less than $1.75? I say “less than” because Alabama rewards local sheriffs by allowing them to spend even less than $1.75 per day and keeping the difference for him or herself.
In a week in which there is great reason to celebrate (the new administration has lifted the dangerous and counterproductive gag rule) there are many good reasons to start paying very close attention to what those who oppose reproductive justice are really claiming.
Lynn M. Paltrow, Executive Director
With the new Administration, we have an opportunity to have input into the national health care agenda; we need your help to do this. . We are asking you to tell the Obama-Biden Transition team that health care must include comprehensive care for all pregnant women – whether they are seeking to end a pregnancy or hoping to go to term.
NAPW is very proud that as a result of our cross movement building and collaborations, major organizations, including the Center for American Progress, a coalition of pro-choice organizations and the National Organization for Women (NOW) have all submitted reproductive health agendas to the new Administration that include proposals not only to protect the right to choose abortion and to use and understand the value of contraceptive services, but also to advance the health and rights of women going to term.
For a long time, I believed that the abortion issue would continue to be used successfully as a brilliant diversion to divide and distract – particularly in the area of national or universal health care. It seemed that just raising the issue of including abortion in a new health care plan could potentially scuttle the whole thing. Today, though, I think we can move beyond that – from claims of supporting a culture of life, to a health care plan that actually supports and provides care for all the women who give that life.
As many of you know by now, all of the state anti-abortion/fetal rights ballot measures were defeated. NAPW, working with extraordinary state and local allies in Colorado and South Dakota, played a role. Indeed, we can't help but believe that our video, viewed by thousands of people in those states in the days leading up to the vote, and our efforts to expand the base, especially in Colorado this year, made a difference. The Colorado amendment was defeated 3-1, strongly suggesting that our efforts, along with COLOR and L. Indra Lusero of the the Luz Reproductive Justice Think Tank, to broaden the base and expand the arguments -- account for the huge margin of victory.
On Wednesday night, NAPW was recognized by the Ms. Foundation for Women, along with Sisterhood Mobilized for AIDS Research and Treatment (SMART) and FIERCE, the only membership-based organization for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth of color in the country.
The event, co-hosted by Gloria Steinem, Caroline's comedy-club owner Caroline Hirsch and Ms. Foundation President and CEO, Sara K. Gould, was an evening of sisterly fun and celebration as prominent comedians, such as Suzanne Whang, host of HGTV's House Hunters, serving as event Emcee, Kristen Schaal, well-known "Senior" Women's Correspondent for the Daily Show, and Marina Franklin, of Chapelle's Show fame, to name a few, engaged the audience with sharp comedy smartly presented in a feminist context. "The need for humor and hope to spur us on," according to Ms. Foundation President Sara K. Gould, "has never been greater."
Last night I had the privilege of receiving a National Women’s Health Network’s Barbara Seaman Award for Activism in Women's Health. The National Women’s Health Network created this award to honor one of their founders, Barbara Seaman. Barbara died this year after a lifetime of research, activism, courage and love. The room was filled with Barbara’s family, friends, and allies.
I never had the privilege of meeting Barbara, but knew about some of her work, including her book, The Doctor’s Case Against the Pill. This book and her activism exposed the serious health dangers posed especially by the first generation of the birth control pill. Indeed, Barbara Seaman’s work probably saved my own mother’s life.
Today, following Governor Sarah Palin's speech accepting her party's nomination as their Vice Presidential candidate, Alternet.org published National Advocates for Pregnant Women's open letter asking her to rethink her position on abortion. The Austin Statesman and the Huffington Post are also running this commentary this is now available in Spanish as well.
Dear Governor Sarah Palin:
Many Americans agree with your position regarding abortion – they do this as a matter of faith, ethics, personal experience and sometimes politics. We are just wondering though, if you have thought about what would happen if you succeeded in getting your position – that fetuses have a right to life -- established as the law of the land? Did you know that it not only threatens the lives, health and freedom of women who might want or need someday to end their pregnancies, it would also give the government the power to control the lives of women – like you who -- go to term?
Your last pregnancy, the one that has become the topic of widespread discussion and speculation provides an important opportunity to demonstrate how this could be true.
Today, Colorado based reproductive justice activist L. Indra Lusero and I had a commentary published in key media outlets in Colorado. Anti-choice activists there were successful in collecting enough signatures to place their proposed amendment to the state constitution on their November Ballot. This so called “Human Life Amendment” to the State Constitution, number 48 on the November ballot, declares that the term person includes “any human being from the moment of fertilization” and would give zygotes, embryos and fetuses “inalienable rights, equality of justice and due process of law.” Most of the opposition to this amendment so far focuses on how the amendment could limit the right to choose abortion. Our commentary makes clear that much much more is at stake:
Please join me (Lynn Paltrow, NAPW's Executive Director) for:
“Building Our Base: Advancing a Culture of Life that Values the Women Who Give that Life”
A Communications Connection Teleconference and Webinar
WHEN: August 7th, 2008; 2:00pm - 3:00pm EDT (11:00am - 12:00pm PDT)
TO SIGN UP: Please visit http://www.rhrealitycheck.org/community
If you have any questions about how to login please e-mail email@example.com.
This Communications Connection Teleconference and Webinar is sponsored by RH Reality Check. The Communications Connection web forum series is a service for the domestic reproductive rights community from DDB Issues & Advocacy, in partnership with RH Reality Check. It is generously supported by the David & Lucile Packard Foundation.
I will be speaking about the fact that many people in the U.S. work to protect the rights and dignity of pregnant women; however, the issue of abortion is so divisive that many of these advocates do not work together or even speak to one another.
All of them, from pro-choice advocates defending the right to choose abortion to birthing rights advocates pushing for compassionate, quality prenatal care, advocate for the same women, whatever their position on abortion.
Both groups struggle with policies undermining women's health and wellbeing. Both recognize women's need for support and information. Both are hurt by legislation so focused on restricting abortion that it overlooks pregnant women's other numerous health concerns.
Despite their differences, pro-choice and birthing rights advocates have begun to come together over their shared commitment to the health and rights of pregnant women. This talk will address progress towards expanding the Reproductive Justice base, legislative and policy proposals reflecting shared values and "pro-active" legislative possibilities, recent court decisions demonstrating connections between abortion and birthing activists, and the threat to all by measures like Colorado's ballot initiative conferring personhood at conception under the state constitution.
Please sign up and join us on August 7, 2008.
This week has been a big one for getting hard issues discussed in serious ways. Today, the newspaper of record for South Carolina ran a commentary by Barry Lester, PhD. and Sue Veer entitled A Measure of Justice for Regina McKnight. Starting on Sunday the L.A. Daily News began running a series about child welfare policies that routinely remove newborns from low-income women based on unconsented to and unconfirmed positive drug tests. This series by Troy Anderson, and entitled Drug war on moms. Toddler, newborn wrongly torn from family in stepped-up screening of pregnant women begins this way:
Awakened by late-night pounding and his doorbell ringing, Palmdale resident Jesus Bejarano found a social worker and two sheriff's deputies demanding he turn over his 20-month-old daughter, Kelly.
The social worker said Bejarano's 29-year-old wife, Cheila Herrera, had tested positive for amphetamines and PCP at Antelope Valley Hospital after giving birth to the couple's son a week earlier.
Their son, Jesse, who was born prematurely and was still at the hospital, had already been placed in protective custody.
In 2007, NAPW had a major growth spurt. We went from an organization of 2-3 full time people to a core staff of 7-8 plus numerous consultants and interns. We outgrew our space and our systems. All of us have, for nearly a year, been crowded into barely 1,200 square feet with only 2 phone lines and limited network capacity.
I am thrilled to announce that we moved to new space that will allow us to build appropriate infrastructure including fully networked systems. Our new offices are located at 15 West 36th Street Suite 901, New York, New York 10018. Mail from the old office will be forwarded to the new one (in case you were worried).
There are many things about the office and location that are auspicious. . .
Today, we were thrilled to learn that after 8 long years, the South Carolina Supreme Court has finally reversed the 20-Year Homicide Conviction of Regina McKnight. The unanimous decision recognizes that research linking cocaine to stillbirths is based on "outdated" and inaccurate medical information. NAPW has been working on behalf of Ms. McKnight for nearly 10 years.
Specifically the South Carolina Supreme Court ruled that Regina McKnight did not have a fair trial when she was convicted in 2001 for homicide by child abuse. Through this conviction she became the first woman in South Carolina to be convicted of homicide by child abuse as a result of suffering an unintentional stillbirth.
McKnight was arrested in 1999, several months after she experienced a stillbirth at Conway Hospital. McKnight’s conviction was based on the jury’s acceptance of the scientifically unsupported claim that her cocaine use caused the stillbirth. McKnight had no prior arrest history and even prosecutors agreed that she had no intention of harming the fetus or losing the pregnancy. Nevertheless, upon conviction she was given a twenty-year sentence, suspended to twelve years in prison with no chance for parole. She was projected to be released in 2010.
The medical community has strongly opposed McKnight’s prosecution and conviction. From the beginning, leading South Carolina and national medical, public health, and child welfare organizations and experts have opposed the prosecution and conviction. These organizations—represented by us-- the National Advocates for Pregnant Women and the Drug Policy Alliance, with South Carolina counsel Susan Dunn included the South Carolina Medical Association, the South Carolina Nurses Association, the South Carolina Association of Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Counselors, and the South Carolina Coalition for Healthy Families argued in an amicus (friend of the court) brief argued that women do not lose their rights to a fair trial upon becoming pregnant and challenged the state’s evidence that cocaine use or anything else that McKnight did or did not do caused the stillbirth.
On Saturday March 15, 2008 the New York Times published a story, In Alabama, a Crackdown on Pregnant Drug Users. We were pleased that it did not use such stigmatizing and scientifically baseless terms as "crack" and " meth" baby. We were disappointed though that the story did not quote any experts in the field. Rather the story said: "Some doctors and advocacy groups maintain that the effects of drugs on pregnant women and their fetuses are not fully known. . ." This phrasing suggests a level of doubt that simply does not exist. It implies that arresting pregnant women who become pregnant and continue to term in spite of a drug problem might somehow be justified. In fact, every leading medical and public health group to take a position on the issue opposes prosecution of pregnant women and new mothers as counterproductive to both maternal and fetal health. Moreover, as the information we provided to the New York Times makes clear, there is no room for doubt. Virtually every leading researcher in the field of prenatal exposure to drugs has concluded that while use of these drugs should not be viewed as benign, the actual and extensive peer reviewed and published research that has been done has been unable to identify a recognizable "condition, syndrome or disorder" resulting from exposure to these drugs that would justify singling out their use as a basis for the prosecutions of pregnant women.
There are many reasons to oppose the prosecution of pregnant women and new mothers. These prosecutions, if upheld would create legal precedent for the finding that women, upon becoming pregnant lose their civil and human rights. If a pregnant woman can be viewed as a child abuser before she ever gives birth, or as a murderer because she can not guarantee a healthy birth outcome, she ceases to exist as a full human being and full rights bearing citizen. Here is just one small example. Very often in these cases it is assumed that women should be able to stop their drug use when they become pregnant. But because pregnant women are no less human than other people, they too become addicted to drugs . This means that the desire and intent to stop is very often not enough to overcome the addiction. Pregnant women no less than people like Rush Limbaugh deserve compassion and treatment as they struggle with addiction not the presumption that they can simply stop. If pregnant women fail to overcome fully an addiction in the short term of pregnancy, their continued use is taken by some as evidence of a desire to harm their future child -- rather than as evidence that they are human beings and struggling like other people with the physiological and psychological ramifications of addiction.
Other reasons to oppose the prosecution of pregnant women include the fact that incarcerating pregnant women in prisons and jails that do not provide adequate health care and that permit shackling of women who are pregnant and in labor will not help anyone. Moreover, arguing about prosecutions of pregnant women keeps us from talking about the lack of appropriate family drug treatment for pregnant women and parents, lack of universal health care in general, and lack of commitment to our country's mothers and children.
Oh, and by the way, NAPW is working with local attorneys and advocacy organizations to challenge these prosecutions.
Want to do something to help stop these cases? Send a letter/email about how these prosecutions are bad for both maternal and fetal health to: The Alabama Prosecutor: Covington County DA Greg Gambrill at firstname.lastname@example.org; and to Alabama Governor Bob Riley, Attorney General Troy King, and Donald E. Williamson, MD at the Alabama Department of Health.
Salon.com asked me to write 150-250 words on the occasion of the 35th anniversary of Roe v. Wade. Joining other activists including Pamela Merritt (aka Shark-Fu), Shelby Knox, Cristina Page, Jennifer Baumgardner, and Gloria Feldt, among others. Some people feel that after 35 years, reproductive justice activists should not have to spend their time defending the right to choose abortion. But Roe was just a beginning. The fact that America still does not have any national policy of paid maternity leave is just one of many indications of how far we still have to go. My few words in Salon.com give an indication of just how far that is.
Dr. Stone is an OB/GYN in Oklahoma City and state chair for the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Click here to read her op-ed, "Is meth murder charge useful?", from the December 19th edition of The Daily Oklahoman, the state's largest paper.
On Wednesday, November 14th, Oklahoma City hosted a major medical panel called Women, Pregnancy and Drug Use: Medical Facts, Practical Responses and the Well-Being of Children and Families. To listen to segments of the forum, click here to play the mp3 from the KGOU site.
For a flier with full event information and panelists' bios, please click here.
Recently, in State v. Hernandez, the state prosecuted an Oklahoma City woman for murder after suffering a stillbirth and testing positive for methamphetamine — despite a lack of medical evidence connecting the two events and the disapproval of local and national medical and public health associations and individuals. Hear renowned local and national experts in the fields of medicine and social work separate myth from fact regarding drug use and pregnancy, discuss the implications of the case for the health and well-being of Oklahoma’s women and babies, and map out strategies for effective and appropriate responses to addiction and pregnancy.
The keynote was Dr. Barry Lester, the Director of the Brown University Center for Study of Children at Risk, while the other panelists included four other Oklahoma-based medical/public health experts, including the state representative to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and a woman who has been personally affected by substance abuse, the drug war, prison, and her experiences with the criminal justice system.
To see Dr. Lester's entire PowerPoint presentation, click here and go to the bottom link, labeled "Oklahoma City Forum."
Event sponsors included:
• Drew Edmondson, Oklahoma State Attorney General
• Oklahoma County Medical Society
• Oklahoma Department of Human Services
• Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services
• Oklahoma Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Coalition
• Oklahoma Nurses Association
• Oklahoma State Medical Association
• National Association of Social Workers, OK
This Sunday, September 16th, NAPW Executive Director Lynn M. Paltrow will be one of the panelists for a Birth Today in New York discussion following a sold-out performance of Birth. This play, based on over one hundred interviews Karen Brody conducted with mothers across America who gave birth between 2000-2004, and directed by Heidi Marshall, tells the true stories of 8 women, painting a portrait of how low-risk, educated women are giving birth in America today. All three performances of Birth are currently sold out, but any announcement re: additional performances will appear here.
Other panelists (and NAPW allies!) will include:
• Elan McAllister, President & Co-Founder, Choices in Childbirth
• Debra Pascali-Bonaro, B. Ed., CD (DONA), LCCE, Pres. of MotherLove, Inc.
• Patricia Burkhardt, CNM, DrPH, NYU College of Nursing Midwifery
• Christie Craigie-Carter, International Cesarean Awareness Network, Inc.
• George M. Mussalli, MD, FACOG, St. Vincent's Hospital Manhattan
• Mary Barr, Executive Director, Conextions Inc.
Miscarriage of Justice
The federal "partial-birth" abortion ban has grave implications for all pregnant women, not only those seeking to end pregnancies.
By Lynn M. Paltrow American Prospect Web Exclusive: 04.19.07
[Last week] the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the first federal law that bans an abortion procedure for all women and all doctors in all states. By holding that Congress's interest in "preserving and promoting fetal life" trumps both scientific evidence and the health of pregnant women, the newly reconfigured Supreme Court overturned the opinions of three lower federal courts and its own precedent. While Justice Kennedy, who wrote the majority opinion, claims that the "act expresses respect for the dignity of human life," the decision expressly devalues the women who give that life.
To answer this and related questions National Advocates for Pregnant Women and more than 60 organizational and individual co-sponsors are holding the National Summit to Ensure the Health and Humanity of Pregnant and Birthing Women, January 18- Sunday, January 21, 2007 at the Hilton Airport Atlanta, Atlanta, GA.
There are over twenty plenaries and workshops at the Summit addressing the question of how we do or do not value pregnant women and mothers. Among the workshops are:
How Can We Ensure the Health and Humanity of Pregnant and Birthing Women When Pregnant Women, Mothers, and Breastfeeding Women Find So Little Support From Their Workplaces and Communities?
Barriers to Care and Control: From Bans on Vaginal Births After C-sections (VBAC Bans) to Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers (TRAP Laws,) Do Women Have a Say in Pregnancy and Childbirth?
Medical Interventions That Can Help and Hurt: How Do We Ensure Women's Informed Consent, and Women's Ability to Protect Their Reproductive Health and Lives?
New co-sponsors of this extraordinary event include the American College of Nurse-Midwives, the Committee on Women Population and the Environment, Generation Five, the Idaho Women's Network, the Midwives Alliance of North America, Planned Parenthood of Georgia, Backline, the Third Wave Foundation, and the Council on Anthropology & Reproduction
The Summit is already receiving media coverage and praise. On December 14, Paris Hatcher of Georgians for Choice, Susan Hodges of Citizens for Midwifery and Lynn Paltrow(me) of NAPW appeared on WRFG, (89.3FM) Radio Free Georgia. We gathered by phone to appear on the Womanspeak program hosted by the incomparable C. Wiatta Freeman. We had a whole hour to talk about the Summit and its goals including bringing together two disparate groups that in fact have many shared values and concerns: those who identify themselves primarily as pro-choice, and those who advocate for maternity/birth with dignity (midwives, doulas, alternative birth practitioners, and other health care providers).
Commenting on the Summit and the Preliminary Program, we received high praise from writer, researcher and author Robbie Davis Floyd:
The program is indeed truly amazing. . .
I want to compliment . . . everyone at NAPW on your wide reach. Most conferences where I speak are limited in audience members to midwives, childbirth educators, doulas, nurses, docs, anthropologists, advocates. You have managed to reach all these groups--I hear about this conference from all of them--news comes to me from all these groups about how important the conference is, a must-attend! There would be no way for me not to know about it even if you had never contacted me personally. This is a first for me--to get input from all the groups I belong to about one conference, and to see on the speaker roster many of the very best birth people along with the very best activists, advocates, anthropologists, practitioners. I am totally impressed and very excited!
I hope this will be the start of ongoing dialogue, action, and future such events--I feel that we are creating a community here much wider than the ones we normally participate in.
We hope you will join us at the Summit. If you have not registered yet you can write to Summit@advocatesforpregnantwomen.org to find out how you can still participate in this groundbreaking event.
Demonstrating an extraordinary interest in finding common ground and addressing the shared concerns of pregnant and birthing women -- more than 50 organizations have signed on as formal co-sponsors of this groundbreaking event. We don't think we need to say more than to share this list as evidence of unprecedented collaboration and support:
Our Bodies Ourselves,
International Center for Traditional Childbearing,
Citizens For Midwifery, Inc.,
Mothers United For Midwifery,
Realbirth Education Center,
SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Health Collective,
Planned Parenthood Federation of America,
Native American Women’s Health Education Resource Center,
This week, NAPW's commentary, coauthored by NAPW summer law intern Julie Ehrlich, Jailing Pregnant Women Raises Health Risks, is featured in Women's E-news. In recent months, pregnant women have been arrested and jailed in South Carolina, New Mexico, Arizona, Alabama, Colorado, Georgia, Missouri, North Dakota and New Hampshire, among other states, based on the claim that pregnant women can be considered child abusers even before they have given birth. This commentary challenges one of the main justifications for such arrests -- the claim that imprisoning pregnant women and new mothers will somehow promote public health. The commentary describes the unhealthy and dangerous prison conditions that all too many pregnant women face in this country.
One response to the commentary was from a lawyer in New Mexico. This lawyer had not heard of the arrests and was doubtful that such cases in fact exist. Unfortunately, they do. The good news though is that when these arrests are vigorously challenged winning is possible!
Through a variety of mechanisms, women who want to have a vaginal birth after a previous cesarean section ("VBAC") are finding that this option is foreclosed, and their ability to exercise their right to informed medical decision-making limited or denied altogether. Some women have effectively or literally been forced to have unnecessary surgery. In one case police officers actually entered the home of a woman in labor, took her into custody, forced her to return to a hospital, and made her undergo a cesarean section against her will and without medical indication. As a USA Today story on VBACs reported, other women have been forced to travel long distances from their family and doctor in order to attempt vaginal birth at a facility that supports them. And still others have been left with home birth, often without support from a health care professional, as their only way of avoiding a c-section that they in fact did not want or need.
Yesterday, President Bush, exercising his first veto, rejected the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act that many in Congress and the medical community believe will lead to many potentially life-saving medical breakthroughs. According to the New York Times, "Mr. Bush said the bill violated his principles on the sanctity of human life." We understand that there are wide differences of opinion on such issues as abortion, the death penalty, war and even health care. Nevertheless we at NAPW wondered whether these pricinples apply to any form of life other than embryonic and fetal life in light of the following:
just summarizing a few of the new and very disturbing assaults on pregnant women and families turned into a commentary published by TomPaine.com and picked up by Alternet, entitled Blaming Pregnant Women. Thank you to editor Alex Walker, at TomPainecom for making this possible: In a society that values children, it's striking how frequently our public policy falls short of our rhetoric. Too often, the notion of collective responsibility for the nation's children translates into collective demonization of pregnant women. Collective responsibility for our children should mean support for policies that help pregnant women get the care they need to have healthy babies. Instead, states and localities are increasingly blaming individual women, exaggerating the harms from individual behaviors.
NAPW is tracking every case involving the arrests of pregnant women nationwide, and according to news reports, two new arrests have been made in Alabama of women who gave birth to infants who allegedly tested positive for drugs. Telisha Patterson and Haley Mays were recently arrested and charged with torture or willful abuse of a child and child endangerment for giving birth in spite of a drug problem. Alabama has no law permitting such arrests and a court opinion from 1995 says that this very law may not be used as a mechanism for policing pregnancy. Yet here they are, two more arrests.
Part of the reason of why we keep seeing these new cases is how they are covered by the media. For example, one news report from WSB-TV quotes a cashier as a reliable authority that Ms. Patterson was taking drugs. That same story also relies on a sheriff as its medical authority, quoting him as saying that the baby “has the symptoms, feelings, as an addict, even though its small.” If you were sick, would you rely on a police officer or service station cashier for medical diagnosis and advice? It would be far more appropriate to rely on any of the more than ninety scientific experts who have submitted an open letter calling on the media to refrain from using the term “addicted baby” because medical evidence does not support the term and that babies, by definition, cannot be "addicted" to anything. According to the experts, addiction refers to compulsive behavior that continues in spite of adverse consequences. These same experts also state that although research on the impact of methamphetamine exposure is still in the early stages, over 20 years of research on the related drug, cocaine, has not identified any recognizable condition, syndrome or disorder resulting from prenatal exposure to the drug warranting the terms “meth baby” or “crack baby.”
In mid June, authorities found the body of a 14 year old girl, who was nine months pregnant. Police suspect that her abusive boyfriend helped to commit this crime. Unfortunatley Ms. Brooks is just one of far too many girls and women killed as a result of male violence.
On average, more than three women are murdered by their husbands or boyfriends in this country every day.
Rather than address the pervasive violence against women in Kansas, across the United States and throughout the world, anti-choice activists leapt on this tragic case as an opportunity to advance fetal rights.
Julie Burkhart, is Executive Director of ProKanDo a Kansas based reproductive rights political action committee. Julie began receiving press calls almost immediately. The press inquiries were, however, not about Chelsea Brooks, but rather were all about the rights of the fetus, the fact that it was "viable," and why Kansas did not have an Unborn Victims of Violence Act. Initial press coverage carried such headlines s as: "Girl's death spurs call for new fetal law" and "Family seeks to criminalize killing fetuses."
In our current political world we tend to think of the war on drugs and the war on abortion as very distinct battlegrounds. While it is becoming increasingly clear that the war on abortion is also a war on contraception and sex itself (See Christina Page, How the Pro-choice Movement Saved America) it should be clear that both the war on drugs and the war on abortion are powerful tools for undermining women's health and evidence-based medicine overall.
Feminist writers, thinkers and leaders from Katha Pollitt in the Nation (Virginity or Death, May 30, 2005 issue) to bloggers across the ether-sphere are decrying Bush administration officials in the FDA who are opposing a new vaccine that eradicates the human pampilloma virus (HPV).
It is a refreshing change to see how legislators across the Atlantic are so forthcoming about their intentions, as compared to our own sly devils. In the United Kingdom, Duncan McNeil, a Scottish Parliament Minister, wants to add oral contraceptives into methadone in order to punish opiate addicted women who are taking steps to end drug dependency and lead healthier lives. He offers this Faustian deal: if you want methadone, which is a medically approved and prescribed TREATMENT for opiate addiction, then you must give up your right to procreate. Whether you have to read between the lines or just read between the quotes, advocates on both sides of the Atlantic are saying the same thing: If you are poor, a person of color, and use certain drugs, you are a bad person and the more of these characteristics you have, the more undeserving you are to be a mom.
Yesterday’s New York Times carried a lengthy obituary for a key reproductive rights thinker and leader, Lawrence Lader. Through his early journalism and then activism, he was one of the first people in the 1960’s to openly expose and challenge US laws criminalizing abortion. It is safe to say that his research, writing, and help in founding the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws (NARAL) were key factors in igniting an American movement for reproductive rights. I did not know Larry well, but I admired him greatly. I particularly appreciated him because he was one of the few people to document the truly radical, grassroots activism of other women and men of the early reproductive rights movement. Through him, I learned about such people as Patricia Maginnes, the founder of the nation’s first abortion rights organization, and a woman who actively sought to be arrested as a way to challenge California laws restricting the distribution of information about abortion, contraception, and venereal disease.
Larry stayed active all of his long life and I even had the privilege of once helping to represent him and another organization that he founded, ARM (Abortion Rights Mobilization) in their efforts to make RU486 available to women in the United States.
In addition to Larry, America’s reproductive rights movement lost another key activist this year – though one far less recognized.
While some national groups are fundraising and announcing plans to go into South Dakota, local grass roots and state based activists are already hard at work, organizing, collecting signatures, building new alliances, and defining the core issues for themselves. I learned this and much more on my recent trip to South Dakota.
As you probably know by now, in March, South Dakota passed a law banning virtually all abortions. Local activists responded by starting a referendum drive. If they collect 16,738 signatures from registered voters, the statute will have to be submitted to the people of the state for a direct vote on November 6, 2006.
I learned that for the local activists collecting signatures, the work they are doing has much more to do with preserving democratic and family values than it does with preserving the right to choose to have an abortion. They understand that the abortion issue is being used to distract attention from core economic and family issues that cross race, religious, and party lines– including the need for a living wage and the fact that so many South Dakota families lack health care coverage.
The World Health Organization considers acceptable levels for cesarean rates as not less than 5% and not more than 15% of all deliveries. Yet approximately 28% of all US births are by cesarean delivery, accounting for approximately one million cesareans a year. Given these facts, it should not come as a surprise that organizations concerned about unnecessary and potentially risky c-sections, including NAPW, will be closely watching this week when the National Institutes of Health state-of-the-science holds its conference on ‘cesarean delivery by maternal request.’ http://www.consensus.nih.gov
The American College of Nurse Midwives. Childbirth Connection, the American Association of Birth Centers, Citizens for Midwifery, the Coalition for Improving Maternity Services, the International Cesarean Awareness Network, and Lamaze International are among the organizations watching closely. These groups support the “REDUCE” campaign . . .
Although it is still a work in progress, we are proud to launch a new more beautiful and user-friendly NAPW site. Thanks to John Emerson, Wen-Hua Yang, Wyndi Anderson, and Deb Harper for all of their help.
While we celebrate our new site, we also launch our blog with this question: Have Alaska legislators lost their minds?