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July 20, 2012

Bei Bei Shuai - Out of Jail and Refusing to Give In

On Friday of last week, Bei Bei Shuai once again demonstrated her enormous courage. Ms. Shuai turned down a plea bargain - an offer from the prosecutor in which the state would drop the murder charge if she would plead guilty to the lesser crime of attempted feticide. Ms. Shuai stood firm and refused.

NAPW's ongoing research has turned up scores of cases in which women have pleaded guilty to crimes they did not commit out of fear that they would be convicted of even more serious charges heaped upon them. By refusing the plea offer, Ms. Shuai took a stand not only for her own innocence but also for the rights and humanity of all pregnant women in Indiana.

Terry Curry, the Indiana prosecutor, not only wants to see Ms. Shuai convicted, he apparently wants to prevent Ms. Shuai from having an effective defense against the cruel, inappropriate, and unconstitutional charges he filed against her. Last month, Mr. Curry filed a motion in the Marion County Superior Court seeking to have Linda Pence, lead defense counsel, admonished for statements she made in an effort to obtain support for Ms. Shuai and her legal defense for the murder trial she must now face.

As the Guardian reported:

The move to have Shuai's lawyer admonished has rung warning bells among criminal defense lawyers across the US. Richard Kammen, a member of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, said that it was "hard to fathom their thinking and what they want to get out of this. This strikes me as being way outside what a prosecutor should be doing. Given the numerous public statements about this case made by the prosecutor, it makes you wonder what the agenda might be - is it to intimidate her or prevent her raising money?"

We won't be intimidated! And we won't give up.

If, as the Indiana prosecutor and Attorney General argue, the state may use the criminal law to "protect" fertilized eggs, embryos, and fetuses from the pregnant women who carry and nurture them, women who become pregnant risk losing their liberty to life sentences in jail. As NAPW's Farah Diaz-Tello explains in a new piece in RH Reality Check, if so-called personhood measures pass, directly or in disguise, through cases like Ms. Shuai's, we should expect that women will go to prison for a very long time.

Pregnant women, however, not only also risk losing their right to liberty, but also the right of privacy in their communication with health care providers and in the provision of medical care overall.

An individual's medical records are intensely personal. In this case, the state obtained Ms. Shuai's confidential medical information without so much as a subpoena (court order), much less a search warrant to further a criminal investigation. This not only disregards Ms. Shuai's Fourth Amendment right to be free from illegal searches and seizures, but, if allowed, would set a precedent that would make every pregnant woman in Indiana vulnerable to similarly invasive actions by the state.

On Friday, Ms. Shuai's defense team fought this violation of patient rights and asked the court to prevent the state from using medical records related to Ms. Shuai's hospital treatment as evidence against her at trial. The court seems to have taken these arguments seriously and has given Ms. Shuai's defense team 30 days to file additional written arguments on this critical issue of pregnant women's medical privacy.

We hope you agree that pregnant women should not have to follow Soraya Chemaly's 10 Tips for Staying out of Jail When You're Pregnant. Please help NAPW ensure that women do not lose their civil and human rights upon becoming pregnant.

As of July 19, 2012 more than 7,000 people signed the
Free Bei Bei Shuai online petition . Have you signed?

July 17, 2012

What About the Personhood of Women?

From Newsweek magazine to the popular online news site Truthout, National Advocates for Pregnant Women (NAPW) is getting unprecedented media attention. This coverage confirms that our ideas are taking hold. NAPW is playing a major role in shaping the national debate on the hot-button topics of abortion, so called "personhood" measures, and the war on women.

Media coverage of the Bei Bei Shuai case and the prosecutions of pregnant, drug-using women in Alabama (see coverage in the April 29 issue of The New York Times Magazine) has uniformly recognized that any debate about abortion and the rights of fertilized eggs, embryos, and fetuses cannot take place without a discussion of the status and value of women in the United States.

For example, this Ms. Magazine article about Ms. Shuai begins by asking the question: What about the Personhood of Women? Reflecting NAPW's research on feticide laws, writer Gaylynn Burroughs reports that such laws not only threaten abortion in the abstract but also pregnant women as evidenced by the very real, concrete prosecutions of Ms. Shuai and hundreds of other women around the country. Ms. Burroughs acknowledges NAPW's 11 years of persistent efforts, concluding:

Regardless of the outcome, the Shuai case reminds reproductive rights advocates of an important truth: The movement has irrevocably shifted away from one primarily about abortion rights, and maybe even away from one about "choice," to something more fundamental. Simply put, attempts to create and enforce fetal right are an assault on a "woman's personhood. By elevating the fetus, or embryos and eggs, these measures diminish the humanity and dignity of all women, creating a separate legal regime for pregnant women that makes them lesser citizens.

This article in Marie Claire about Ms. Shuai similarly echoes NAPW's message that a woman's personhood, not just abortion, is at stake when prosecutors use anti-abortion and related feticide measures as a basis for arresting pregnant women.

NAPW's work is also providing activists as well as journalists with ways to challenge so called "personhood" measures. Abigail Pesta, writing in the July 9, 2012 issue of Newsweek and the online news site The Daily Beast, used NAPW's work to challenge, Keith Mason, the founder of Personhood USA, and to force him to consider the consequences of his political agenda. In the article, Behind 'Personhood' Leader Keith Mason's Anti-Abortion Crusade, Ms. Pesta presented NAPW's position that such measures would give police and prosecutors authority to bring murder charges against pregnant women who suffer pregnancy losses. Mr. Mason went on record dismissing this reality as "ridiculous."

Finally, in What Does Personhood Have To Do With Flood Insurance? Ask Senator Rand Paul, writer Lindsay Cross calls attention to the fact that Senator Paul attached a so-called "personhood" measure to a bill dealing with flood insurance. She writes:

Personhood is a scary initiative for anyone who cares about women's reproductive rights. As Lynn Paltrow, the executive director for the National Advocates for Pregnant Women said brilliantly, "There's no way to give embryos constitutional personhood without subtracting women from the community of constitutional persons." If we are going to debate [personhood measures] in this country, they can't be tacked on to an emergency relief bill. The issue deserves to be addressed clearly, so that the entire country can see just how much these initiatives would take away from women, who by the way, are also supposed to have rights.