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June 22, 2009

Sotomayor Confirmation, Joint Letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee From Over 100 Legal and Health Experts

Dismantling Roe v. Wade Would Affect All Pregnant Women

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."

According to the letter, focusing exclusively on abortion "makes it possible to ignore critical issues for women that might not be readily apparent. Nearly a million women each year terminate their pregnancies, close to another million suffer miscarriages and stillbirths, and more than four million women continue their pregnancies to term: Each and every one of these women benefits from the Court's decision in Roe v. Wade."

The letter was co-signed by more than 100 legal and public health experts and advocates concerned with both abortion and birthing rights. The signatories include scholars who have revealed the ways that anti-abortion claims of fetal rights are being used to justify policing and punishment of pregnant women who want to carry their pregnancies to term. Among the signers are Dorothy Roberts (Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction and the Meaning of Liberty); Laura Gomez (Misconceiving Mothers: Legislators, Prosecutors, and the Politics of Prenatal Drug Exposure); Lisa Ikemoto (Furthering the Inquiry: Race, Class, and Culture in the Forced Medical Treatment of Pregnant Women); April Cherry (The Free Exercise Rights of Pregnant Women Who Refuse Medical Treatment); Michelle Oberman (Women, Fetuses, Physicians and the State: Pegnancy and Medical Ethics in the 21st Century); Cynthia Daniels (At Women's Expense: State Power and the Politics of Fetal Rights); Jeanne Flavin (Our Bodies, Our Crimes: The Policing of Women's Reproduction in America); and Rachel Roth (Making Women Pay: The Hidden Costs of Fetal Rights).

"Women's constitutional right to reproductive autonomy includes far more than the right to terminate a pregnancy," said Nancy Ehrenreich, editor of The Reproductive Rights Reader: Law, Medicine and the Construction of Motherhood. "Focusing the confirmation hearings on the issue of abortion ignores the fact that the Supreme Court's ruling in Roe, and more broadly its role as ultimate interpreter of the constitution, are both essential to assuring women their basic rights to human dignity and equality."

You can read the letter here.

The confirmation hearings for Judge Sotomayor will begin July 13. More information is available online at the Senate Judiciary Committee website.

June 15, 2009

Bail granted for imprisoned HIV-positive pregnant woman in Maine

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.

Judge Woodcock stated: “My obligation is to protect the public from further crimes of the defendant, and that public, it seems to me at this point, should include the child she’s carrying…I don’t think the transfer of HIV to an unborn child is a crime technically under the law, but it is as direct and as likely as an ongoing assault.” Judge Woodcock reasoned that the Federal Sentencing Guideline permits enhanced sentencing for pregnant women and that extended imprisonment would protect her “unborn child. ”

As is often the situation in cases involving pregnant women, Courts feel pressed to make decisions without benefit of full briefing, input from experts or amicus participation. Indeed, uncertain of Ms. T’s due date and how long he would need to extend the sentence to ensure she was imprisoned through her due date, the Judge looked out over the courtroom and said “So maybe we ought to consult with the women here. Any sense of what a safe range would be?”

The Amicus brief filed this morning provided the Court with the expert information unavailable at the sentencing hearings. The brief outlines legal problems with depriving pregnant women of their liberty in order to advance alleged state interests in fetal health and the public health problems with assuming that jails and prisons provide superior or even adequate health care. As an expert declaration filed by Dr. Robert L. Cohen stated: “Based upon my thirty years of experience in the delivery, administration, research, evaluation, and monitoring of medical care in jails and prisons throughout the United States, it is my opinion that it is very often the case that the medical care available to prisoners falls well below that available to non-prisoners.”

Ms. T is being represented by Zachary L. Heiden of the Maine ACLU.

NAPW and Center for HIV Law and Policy are grateful to Laura McTighe, Director of Project UNSHACKLE, Community HIV/AIDS Mobilization Project (CHAMP), for her extraordinary help in this effort and the numerous public health experts, advocates, and organizations appearing as amici on this brief, including:

National Women’s Health Network, National Association of People with AIDS, Frannie Peabody Center, Mardge H. Cohen, M.D., Howard Minkoff, M.D., ACT UP Philadelphia, African Services Committee, AIDS Foundation of Chicago, Alliance of AIDS Services – Carolina, American Medical Students Association, Black Women’s Health Imperative, Chicago Women’s AIDS Project, Circle of Care, Community HIV/AIDS Mobilization Project, HIV Law Project, Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project, Liberty Research Group, National AIDS Fund, National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, Rebecca Project for Human Rights, Twin States Network, Women Organized to Respond to Life-Threatening Disease (WORLD), Women Rising Project, Women Together for Change Project, Jeff Berry, Wendy Chavkin, M.D., MPH, Leslie Gise, M.D., and Sean Strub.

We are pleased to report that the Court granted bail this morning, allowing Ms. T’s release pending appeal in the case. See Jail time cut for pregnant illegal alien and In Search of Justice: Bail Granted for HIV+ Pregnant Woman.

June 2, 2009

In Memory of Dr. George Tiller. He supported women's dignity

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?

This rhetoric, largely unchecked over the last 30 years, distracts attention from key facts about the women who have abortions. Sixty-one percent of women who have abortions are already mothers. By the age of 44, 84% of all women have become pregnant and given birth. American women, many of whom have had or will have abortions, do 80 percent of the child care and two-thirds of the housework. They do this work without any form of formal compensation, without any guaranteed pensions, and without any form of insurance or healthcare should they need it.

One of the amazing things about Dr. Tiller, in addition to his determination and his extraordinary courage, was the fact that he knew and appreciated who his patients were. He knew them as loving women, daughters, and mothers who are the backbone of their families and, to a large extent, our country.

Many of the women who traveled to Dr. Tiller's clinic were not women who wanted to have abortions, or who even support the right to choose to have an abortion. Many were women with wanted pregnancies who learned that their baby had no brain, or kidneys growing on the outside of their bodies or things their doctors described to them as 'severe fetal cardiac malformations.' They were women who could not face two or three more months of pregnancy with people patting their bellies and saying, 'Oh honey you must be excited. When are you due?' Some women deal with such crises by continuing to term even knowing the baby cannot survive. Others find that their dignity depends on being able to end the pregnancy.

Some women who went to his clinic were extremely young. Some who went struggled with health problems and disabilities that they felt would be exacerbated by a pregnancy they did not recognize until late. All together they represented women with the least desired and rarest abortions, ones late in pregnancy.

Dr. Tiller was extraordinary. When I met him he talked about why women have abortions and how they understand them in terms of their religious faith and spirituality. He described his efforts to serve them with respect, making possible rituals that would allow them to say goodbye to fetal life that they in fact valued.

Some women who returned from his clinic actually felt that they had been treated better through an abortion they wished they had not needed, than through a birth that they had anticipated with joy.

Today and the days that follow there will be some who will explicitly or subtly endorse Dr. Tiller's murder as a matter of necessity, justified to stop what they will claim is worse killing.

I am tired of a public debate that treats seriously the claim that pregnant women, mothers, and the people who support them are killers. I am tired of a debate that trivializes genocide by saying that what women do to deal with their reproductive lives is worse.

What I want instead is to honor George Tiller, a man who honored women. And I want instead to honor those who value fetal life, but who do not lose sight of the women who give that life, and who would never dream of murdering a doctor who was among the few to give those women the services, respect, and dignity they deserved.

Tiller Vigil NAPW.jpg

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