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November 11, 2012

Electricity, Elections, and the Need for Full-On Engagement

With NAPW's electricity back on after Hurricane Sandy and the elections over, there is much to celebrate and even more to do. As the New York Times editorial the day after the election warned: No one should expect a post election letup in the continuing courtroom fights over state efforts to restrict women's access to safe and legal abortions. National Advocates for Pregnant Women knows that this continuing, post-election fight extends to all pregnant women, not just those seeking to terminate a pregnancy.

A pro-choice president was re-elected, but Bei Bei Shuai and Rennie Gibbs both still face trials for murder for having suffered stillbirths.

Democrats, most of them pro-choice, won a majority in the US Senate, but Roy Moore, the former Alabama judge who refused a federal order to remove a two-ton monument of the Ten Commandments from the state judicial building, was just re-elected as the Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court. This is the court that will soon hear oral argument in the Ankrom and Kimbrough cases addressing whether the word "child" as used in Alabama's criminal laws includes fertilized eggs, embryos, and fetuses and thus exclude pregnant women from the protections afforded by the United States and Alabama constitutions.

The drug policy reform movement won unprecedented victories in Colorado and Washington State with the electorate voting to legalize marijuana. But, since August we know of at least 22 women who have been arrested because they went to term in spite of having used an illegal drug. Five of these women, all in Alabama, were arrested when they gave birth to newborns who tested positive for marijuana.

The ballot measure in Florida opposing implementation of the Affordable Care Act failed, but low-income pregnant women still face discrimination in funding for abortions due to the Hyde Amendment. All pregnant women still face limited access to midwifery care, birthing centers, and abortion care.

In other words, we need to celebrate AND we need to keep fighting!

NAPW, with our colleagues and allies, is continuing to fight for all pregnant women, including Bei Bei Shuai. For example, NAPW is helping trial counsel ensure that cases involving pregnant women are decided based on science, not prejudice or presumption. Ms. Shuai's trial attorney Linda Pence, of Pence Hensel LLC, did exactly that in October when she argued that testimony from Dr. Jolene Clouse (whose autopsy report provides the basis for the murder charge against Ms. Shuai) should be excluded from trial. As reported in the news, Ms. Pence relentlessly questioned Dr. Clouse and elicited testimony that she "had not consulted experts in fetal medicine or toxicology and had done limited research before the autopsy. She said she had found one study that supported her conclusions, but she couldn't remember where she had seen it or who had done it, and hadn't saved it in her records." In addition, Ms. Pence was able to expose Clouse's opposition to abortion.

Also, in October, groups at Indiana's Butler University, (Demia, Global & Historical Studies, and Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies) organized a fantastic grassroots educational event entitled The State of Indiana v. Bei Bei Shuai: Pregnant Women Need Support, Not Prison. It featured Linda Pence, Professor David Orentlicher (counsel for scores of public health groups opposing Ms. Shuai's prosecution), and NAPW's Executive Director, Lynn Paltrow who spoke to a standing room only crowd. The event made the news, including the IndyChannel who reported that:

Supporters of Shuai contend convicting her will have far-reaching consequences. "It's talking about a system of law in which every pregnant woman can be subject to state authority from the moment she conceives," explained Lynn Paltrow, with the National Advocates for Pregnant Women via Skype.

The elections are over but we still need you and your support to ensure that pregnant women retain their civil and human rights.

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