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January 27, 2009

Today's Science Times -Finally!

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!

Lynn Paltrow,
Executive Director

January 26, 2009

Attacks on Pregnant Women, Hidden Messages

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

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