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September 4, 2008

NAPW -- Open Letter to Governor Palin

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.

According to press reports your water broke while you were giving a keynote speech in Texas at the Republican Governors' Energy Conference. You did not immediately go to the hospital – instead you gave your speech and then waited at least 11 hours to get to a hospital. You evaluated the risks, made a choice, and were able to carry on your life without state interference. Texas Governor Rick Perry worried about your pregnancy but didn’t stop you from speaking or take you into custody to protect the rights of the fetus.

After, Ayesha Madyun’s water broke, she went to the hospital where she hoped and planned to have a vaginal birth. When she didn’t give birth in a time-frame comfortable to her doctors, they argued that she should have a C-section. The doctors asserted that the fetus faced a 50-75 percent chance of infection if not delivered surgically. (Risks of infection are believed by some health care providers to increase with each hour after a woman’s water has broken and she hasn’t delivered).

The court, believing, like you that fetuses have a right to life, said, "[a]ll that stood between the Madyun fetus and its independent existence, separate from its mother, was put simply, a doctor's scalpel." With that, the court granted the order and the scalpel sliced through Ms. Madyun's flesh, the muscles of her abdominal wall, and her uterus. The core principle justifying an end to legal abortion in the US provided the same grounds used to deprive this pregnant and laboring woman of her rights to due process, bodily integrity, and physical liberty. When the procedure was done, there was no evidence of infection.

According to the press reports, instead of going straight to a hospital you chose to get on a long airplane flight back to Alaska.

When Pamela Rae Stewart, allegedly, didn’t get to the hospital quickly enough on the day of her delivery, she was arrested in California on the theory that she had violated the rights of her fetus

When Laura Pemberton chose to give birth at home in Florida, a Sheriff came to her house. Doctors believed that she was posing a risk to the life of her unborn child by having a vaginal birth after having had a previous c-section. The doctors were in the process of getting a court- order to force her to have a c-section. The sheriff took Ms. Pemberton into custody during active labor, strapped her legs together and forced her to go to a hospital where an emergency hearing was taking place to determine the rights of her fetus. She was “allowed” to represent herself. A lawyer was appointed for the fetus. This woman, who vehemently opposes abortion, nevertheless believed in her right to evaluate medical risks and benefits to herself and her unborn child. She was forced to have the unnecessary surgery and when she later sued for violations of her civil rights, was told fetal rights outweighed hers.

You chose to continue working throughout your pregnancy – even during your labor. Until 1991, women who worked in high paying blue color jobs that provided health benefits were being fired based on “fetal rights” policies that claimed if the woman became pregnant she would expose the unborn child to workplace health risks. Eventually, the Supreme Court said employers covered by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (the PDA) could not do this. But, millions of American women who work part time or for small employers are not covered by the PDA. If your political position on abortion is accepted – all of these women could be forced to give up their jobs because an employer, family member, or state agent believed it necessary to ensure the health and rights of their unborn child.

Governor Palin, you have led an extraordinary life, balancing work and family, public service and private family obligations. We hope you know though that your freedom relies on exactly the same legal principles that guarantee that American women can choose to have an abortion when they need and want one.

Sixty one percent of women who have abortions are already mothers. Eighty-four percent of these women will be mothers by the time they are in forties. We hope that you, as the proud mother of five beautiful children, will recognize that the issue isn’t abortion – it is ensuring the lives, dignity and freedom of all pregnant women and their families.

Lynn Paltrow
Executive Director
National Advocates for Pregnant Women