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March 23, 2010

A Reflection on Historic Health Care Reform!

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.

In any event, I think the legislation says more about the anti-abortion movement than the pro-choice movement. It exposes the fact that the political leaders who oppose abortion use that issue for much larger political purposes -- to distract attention from the suffering of tens of millions of Americans, including pregnant women, who have no health care coverage at all. Making abortion harder to obtain is certainly one of their goals, but stopping health care reform was the bigger goal, and at that they failed.

Lynn Paltrow

March 12, 2010

Deadly Delivery The Maternal Health Care Crisis in the USA

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.

A journalist asked if I thought the title was an "over-exaggeration." My answer was that if you are privileged enough to have access to the best of America’s health care system it might seem that way, but if you are one of the tens of millions of people with little to no health care coverage then the title might actually be a profound understatement.

Please spread the word about this very valuable report.

Best Wishes to All,

March 6, 2010

Utah Continues Reckless Efforts to Lock-Up Pregnant Women

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.

What does this mean? Under this bill, pregnant women who "know" that their cancer medications or other prescription medications could risk harm or cause pregnancy loss could still be arrested. Pregnant women who stay with abusive husbands who they "know" to be angry about the pregnancy could still be arrested under this law. Pregnant women who continue working in jobs they "know" pose hazards to their pregnancies could still be arrested under the law. And even pregnant women who "know", from reading the side of their cigarette packages, that smoking is hazardous to their pregnancies could be arrested under this law.

Representative Wimmer, the bill's sponsor, has assured critics that the bill would only be applied "in the most glaring of cases." But whatever his intention, cases from around the country demonstrate that once law enforcement officials have the discretion to arrest, and judges have the opportunity to interpret the law, legislators no longer have control. In fact there have already been cases where government officials seeking to protect the "unborn" have sought to keep pregnant women from obtaining cancer treatment.

Moreover, sending the message that what women "know" and do while pregnant may be a crime also influences how doctors and nurses treat pregnant women. They become less likely to help women and more likely to judge them. In Iowa, it was a health care provider who called the police when a distraught pregnant woman sought help after she fell down a flight of stairs. The young woman was arrested for "attempted feticide." The police eventually withdrew the charge, but only after this young mother had been taken into custody, spent several days in jail and several weeks terrified about what was going to happen next.

If the Utah bill becomes law, a pregnant woman whose health care provider reports her to the police will not be comforted by the fact that, eventually, someone might decide that her actions were merely "reckless" and not "knowing."

Some supporters of the bill would claim that this bill is really just about punishing women who intentionally seek to "self-abort." For people who profoundly oppose abortion, it seems logical that legislation could be carefully crafted to distinguish between pregnant women who seek to terminate their pregnancies and those who do not. Criminal laws, however, depend on application of intent standards and are enforced by police officers and prosecutors who have extraordinary discretion in deciding who will and will not be arrested. Because everything a pregnant woman does or does not do can affect pregnancy outcome, it is hard to come up with an example of a law that could be applied only to women who "truly" intend to end their pregnancies while ensuring that pregnant women who do not intend to terminate their pregnancies or risk harm to their fetuses are protected from police investigation, interrogation, arrest, and prosecution.

Even if this Utah bill were carefully crafted (and it is not), its main purpose clearly is not to advance a culture of life, but rather to advance laws that permit imprisonment of pregnant women. The description of the bill explains its purpose as removing "prohibitions against prosecution" of women. In other words--Utah apparently aspires to be the first state to admit that the purpose of an anti-abortion law is not to stop doctors from performing abortions, but to lock up women who have them.

In fact, this bill was created out of frustration that no law existed that could be used to imprison a 17-year-old girl. According to its sponsor, Utah's HB 462 was passed to respond to a case in which a desperate a pregnant teenager hired someone to attack her and cause her to lose the pregnancy. It should be clear, however, that any young woman who is desperate enough to invite violence against her--violence that could have caused her own death--is not going to be deterred by this law.

Imprisoning this teenager, who survived and gave birth to a healthy baby, would have cost taxpayers approximately $30,000 a year. If the real purpose of the law were to prevent this kind of thing from happening again, the state could invest, for example, in Backline, an organization that could provide non-judgmental counseling to women struggling with their pregnancies.

The real purpose of the Utah bill, however, is to make it possible to police pregnant women and to imprison them as murderers. That deserves a firestorm of opposition as well.

March 3, 2010

Caution: Pregnancy May Be Hazardous to Your Liberty

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 our country stands at a deadlock over legislation to ensure that millions of uninsured people have health care coverage, we can at least feel confident that some state legislators are hard at work, making it more difficult for women to access health care and much easier for states to put them, and the people who help them, in jail.

On Monday, NAPW got the last word in a New York Times story about a pending law that would enable the state of Utah to lock up pregnant women who experience pregnancy loss at any stage of pregnancy, and this morning I had the chance to speak about these issues on Democracy Now.

You can help oppose Utah's law by signing this petition to the Utah Governor, by flooding state leaders and the internet with comments opposing a law that seeks to put pregnant women and new mothers behind bars, and by joining this Facebook page started by a Utah activist.

As NAPW Staff Attorney Kathrine Jack explained last week to members of the U.S. State Department as part of the Universal Periodic Review Consultation process, the prosecution of pregnant women constitutes a violation of international human rights. The Review, mandated by the United Nations, was created to expose human rights concerns and help countries begin to address them.

You can also help protect the rights and dignity of pregnant and parenting women by spreading the word about our second continuing education program designed to ensure that policies are based on solid scientific information, not myth and misinformation. Drugs, Pregnancy and Parenting: What the Experts Have to Say Part II will be held in New York on Thursday, April 29, 2010.

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