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January 27, 2013

Open letter to Senator Dick Black: Please Stop Denigrating Pregnant Women and Mothers

January 25, 2013

Senator Dick Black
P.O. Box 396
Richmond, Virginia 23218
Email: district13@senate.virginia.gov

Dear Senator Black:

On Tuesday, January 22nd on the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, you spoke on the Virginia Senate floor and made a speech in which you equated legal abortion with the Nazi Holocaust.

I am writing to urge you to rethink your use of this rhetoric.

While your speech referred to abortion clinics, the people who have abortions at these clinics are pregnant women. The individual, private decision a pregnant woman makes to have an abortion is not the same as government sponsored genocide. Government respect for private decision-making is not the same as government authorized legal and military action against particular groups of people on the basis of religion, race, gender, creed, or sexual orientation.

Equating an individual woman’s decision regarding her reproductive health and life to the Nazi Holocaust, or to any holocaust, diminishes the significance of government-sponsored genocide and is, in fact, a form of holocaust denial. It also denigrates the humanity of pregnant women and diminishes their moral status.

Women who have abortions are overwhelmingly mothers. Sixty to seventy percent of women having abortions are already mothers. By the age of 45, eighty-five percent of all women in U.S. will have become pregnant and given birth; forty-three percent will have had an abortion. Women do eighty percent of the childcare and two-thirds of the housework. They do this work without any form of formal compensation, without guaranteed pensions, and still without any guaranteed form of insurance or healthcare.

Whatever you may have meant by your comments, I hope you will agree that pregnant woman and mothers who have had abortions are not the same as, or worse than those who carry out torture, terrorize and kill children, and commit mass murder.

By equating abortion to the Holocaust, you necessarily implicate pregnant women and mothers as individuals responsible for crimes against humanity. Rather than vilifying pregnant women and mothers in this way, I hope you will instead focus on providing them with the health care, economic, and social support they and their families need.

Sincerely yours,

Lynn M. Paltrow
Executive Director
National Advocates for Pregnant Women

January 25, 2013

NAPW's Lynn Paltrow on Bill Moyers this Sunday - and more!

On January 22nd, the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, NAPW's Executive Director Lynn Paltrow was interviewed with ally Jessica Gonzales Rojas of the National Latina Institute on Reproductive Health by Bill Moyers for his show Moyers & Company. The interview will air this Sunday on PBS stations across the country. (Moyers & Company airs weekly on public television - Check your local listings) We hope that you will watch with us. For more on the anniversary of Roe, you can watch Lynn speaking at Center for American Progress in Washington, DC: Roe 2.0: Strategies for the Next Generation of Reproductive Rights Activism.

For more on NAPW's ground breaking study released last week, you can listen to the audio news conference with co-authors Lynn Paltrow and Jeanne Flavin, and editor Colleen Grogan here: First Ever Study of Post-Roe v. Wade Anti-Choice Measures Reveals Broad Consequences for Pregnant Women. We hope that in the months to come you will help us spread the word about this study that exposes how post-Roe anti-abortion and "pro-life" measures such as feticide laws are being used to create a punitive and dangerous system of separate and unequal law for women - one that undermines maternal, fetal, and child health. The Executive Summary is available here.

The study has already spurred Personhood USA to admit that its mission includes not only ending legal abortion, but also making state child abuse laws applicable to pregnant women in relationship to the embryos, eggs, and fetuses they carry, nurture, and sustain. In the past, supporters of "personhood" measures dismissed as "scare tactics" the argument that these measures would make all pregnant women subject to state surveillance, control, and punishment. In response to our study, Personhood USA has finally revealed the very real and scary truth that its efforts would hurt all pregnant women.

We are pleased by the media coverage the study has been getting. The study has become part of the overall story about the 40th Anniversary of Roe, for example see "Policing African-American Motherhood From Every Angle" by Alicia Walters, "The 'New Jane Crow' and American Women's Civil Rights" by Soraya Chemaly, and "Is miscarriage murder? States that put fetal rights ahead of a mother's say so" by Sadhbh Walshe. This commentary carries our important message that "the effort to undo Roe v Wade threatens not just reproductive rights but the very definition of personhood for American women."

Radio and TV are talking about our study from coast to coast, including Democracy Now's segment "Criminalizing Pregnancy: As Roe v. Wade Turns 40, Study Finds Forced Interventions on Pregnant Women," and NPR affiliate Southern California Public Radio segment "Study shows more than 400 women denied rights due to pregnancy." In addition, our commentary that was published by The Huffington Post and Truthout, Daily Kos, and Alternet. National and international newspapers and other media outlets are publishing thoughtful stories about our research. The Guardian's story about the study ran in numerous additional places with different headlines like this one: "Troubling number of women denied constitutional rights based on pregnancy." Some, like this one from Gather, included powerful new introductions:

This story should horrify, and outrage you. I read it early this morning, in my first pass for today's SR. It upset me so much that I had to just stop and sit, and meditate for some moments. And it worried me that I knew nothing about this. That's how deeply buried this part of the war on women has been.

Last Friday, this "war" intensified and some of the concerns raised in our study were borne out by a shocking decision by the Alabama Supreme Court. This decision held that the plain meaning of the word "child" in Alabama's chemical endangerment law includes fertilized eggs. What this means is that pregnant women in Alabama can go to jail for 10 years to life for using any amount of any controlled substance, even one prescribed to them by a physician. In Alabama, pregnant women who need methadone treatment, pain medication, or even substances commonly used in epidurals are now criminals. And, given the court's claim about the plain meaning of the word "child" - it would appear that every law in Alabama that uses this word now makes pregnant women subject to its reach - including child abuse and child murder laws.

We need your help to challenge this decision and to keep attention on our message: what is at stake on this 40th Anniversary of Roe v. Wade is not only the right to choose abortion or even reproductive rights, but nothing less than the personhood of pregnant women.

January 15, 2013

New Study Reveals the Impact of Post-Roe v Wade and "Pro-Life" Measures

On January 15, 2013, the Journal of Health Politics, Policy and Law published a study, "Arrests of and Forced Interventions on Pregnant Women in the United States, 1973-2005: Implications for Women's Legal Status and Public Health," written by Lynn M. Paltrow, NAPW Executive Director, and Jeanne Flavin, Professor of Sociology at Fordham University and NAPW Board President. This study makes clear that post-Roe anti-abortion and "pro-life" measures are being used to do more than limit access to abortion; they are providing the basis for arresting women, locking them up, and forcing them to submit to medical interventions, including surgery. The cases documented in our study, as well as recent cases, make clear that, 40 years after Roe v. Wade was decided, far more is at stake than abortion or women's reproductive rights. Pregnant women face attacks on virtually every right associated with constitutional personhood, including the very basic right to physical liberty.

Our study is already getting enormous attention, including this story in The Guardian, "Study finds widespread 'criminalisation of pregnancy' in US institutions." Please help us amplify the message and expand the reach of our unprecedented research by joining the conversation on Twitter using the hashtag #NewJaneCrow.

Our study identified 413 criminal and civil cases involving the arrests, detentions and equivalent deprivations of pregnant women's physical liberty that occurred between 1973 (when Roe v. Wade was decided) and 2005. Because many cases are not reported publicly, we know that this is a substantial undercount. Furthermore, new data collection indicates that at least 250 such interventions have taken place since 2005.

In almost all of the cases we identified, the arrests and other actions would not have happened but for the fact that the woman was pregnant at the time of the alleged violation of law. And, in almost every case we identified, the person who initiated the action had no direct legal authority for doing so. No state legislature has passed a law that holds women legally liable for the outcome of their pregnancies. No state legislature has passed a law making it a crime for a pregnant woman to continue her pregnancy to term in spite of a drug or alcohol problem. No state has passed a law exempting pregnant women from the protections of the state and federal constitution. And, under Roe v. Wade, abortion remains legal.

Yet, since 1973, many states have passed anti-abortion and feticide measures that, like so-called "personhood" measures, encourage state actors to treat eggs, embryos, and fetuses as if they are legally separate from the pregnant woman. We found that these laws have been used as the basis for a disturbing range of punitive state actions in every region of the country, against women of every race, and disproportionately against women in the South, low-income women and African-American women.

Women have been arrested while still pregnant, taken straight from the hospital in handcuffs, and sometimes shackled around the waist and at the ankles. Pregnant women have been held under house arrest and incarcerated in jails and prisons. Pregnant women have been held in locked psychiatric wards, as well as in hospitals and in drug treatment programs under 24-hour guard. They have been forced to undergo intimate medical exams and blood transfusions over their religious objections. Women have been forced to submit to cesarean surgery. They have been arrested shortly after giving birth while dressed only in hospital gowns. And, despite claims by some anti-abortion activists that women themselves will not be arrested if abortion is re-criminalized, women who have ended their pregnancies and had abortions are already being arrested.

Consider the following:

  • A woman in Utah gave birth to twins. When one was stillborn, she was arrested and charged with criminal homicide based on the claim that her decision to delay cesarean surgery was the cause of the stillbirth.
  • After a hearing that lasted less than a day, a court issued an order requiring a critically ill pregnant woman in Washington, DC to undergo cesarean surgery over her objections. Neither she nor her baby survived.
  • A judge in Ohio kept a woman imprisoned to prevent her from having an abortion.
    A woman in Oregon who did not comply with a doctor's recommendation to have additional testing for gestational diabetes was subjected to involuntary civil commitment. During her detention, the additional testing was never performed.
  • A Louisiana woman was charged with murder and spent approximately a year in jail before her counsel was able to show that what was deemed a murder of a fetus or newborn was actually a miscarriage that resulted from medication given to her by a health care provider.
  • In Texas, a pregnant woman who sometimes smoked marijuana to ease nausea and boost her appetite gave birth to healthy twins. She was arrested for delivery of a controlled substance to a minor.
  • A doctor in Wisconsin had concerns about a woman's plans to have her birth attended by a midwife. As a result, a civil court order of protective custody for the woman's fetus was obtained. The order authorized the sheriff's department to take the woman into custody, transport her to a hospital, and subject her to involuntary testing and medical treatment.

As disturbing as our findings are, this study also provides a basis for building a shared public health and political agenda that includes all pregnant women. The current public debate overwhelmingly focuses on the issue of abortion and interference with one kind of right: reproductive rights. This study, however, confirms that if passed, so called "personhood" measures would: 1) provide the basis for arresting pregnant women who have abortions; and 2) provide state actors with the authority to subject all pregnant women to surveillance, arrest, incarceration and other deprivations of liberty whether women seek to end a pregnancy or not.

Furthermore, the study demonstrates that there is no way to add fertilized eggs, embryos, and fetuses to state constitutions or to the United States Constitution without removing all pregnant women from the community of constitutional persons. As Lynn Paltrow's commentary in the American Journal of Public Health explains, these measures create a "Jane Crow" system of law, establishing a separate and unequal status for all pregnant women and disproportionately punishing African American and low-income women.

For example, last week, a Tennessee woman who had been in a car accident was tested to see if she had been driving under the influence of alcohol. According to local press, her blood alcohol content was well below the legal limit. Nevertheless, because she told a police officer that she was four months pregnant, she was arrested and taken to jail. Tennessee apparently recognizes a special crime reserved just for pregnant women: driving while not intoxicated.

We are confident that most people in the United States, regardless of their views on abortion, do not want to see pregnant women subjected to a separate and unequal system of law as a result of "pro-life" measures. To that end, we call for a culture of life that values all women, including those who give birth to that life, and recommend:

  • The rejection of "personhood" measures;
  • A moratorium on new feticide laws and a fair and open inquiry into whether such laws -- passed with the promise of protecting pregnant women and fetuses -- have actually reduced violence against pregnant women;
  • That health care providers ensure that pregnant women are afforded the same confidentiality, respect, and dignity extended to other patients;
  • That lawmakers adopt policies that promote women's health and remove barriers to family planning and contraceptive services, abortion services, birthing options, and effective and humane drug treatment, and address the stark racial and economic inequalities that are perpetuated by the U.S. war on drugs and our system of mass incarceration.

Finally, we call upon legislative authorities and others to affirm the personhood of pregnant women, ensuring that upon becoming pregnant and through all stages of pregnancy, labor, and delivery, women retain their civil and human rights.

January 12, 2013

Press Statement: National Advocates for Pregnant Women’s Lynn Paltrow on Alabama Supreme Court’s Decision in “Personhood” Measure in Disguise Case

JANUARY 12, 2013
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JANUARY 12, 2013

PATTY FIRST: (202) 466-2411

National Advocates for Pregnant Women’s Lynn Paltrow on Alabama Supreme Court’s Decision in “Personhood” Measure in Disguise Case

New York, NY – In response to the Alabama Supreme Court’s decision in Ex Parte Ankrom and Kimbrough yesterday, National Advocates for Pregnant Women released the following statement from founder and executive director Lynn Paltrow:

“This decision is judicial activism at its most dangerous. By reinterpreting the word ‘child’ to include eggs, embryos, and fetuses, the court has judicially enacted a “personhood measure” in disguise—making it a crime for some pregnant women to go to term and to give birth.”

“What this ruling means is that every pregnant woman in Alabama will be a criminal suspect and those who ingest any controlled substance—even if it is prescribed and whether or not it will have any effect on her future child—may be arrested and incarcerated.”

National Advocates for Pregnant Women, Drug Policy Alliance, and Southern Poverty Law Center filed an amicus (friend of the court) brief in this case on behalf of 49 medical, public health, and health advocacy groups and experts. The prosecutions of Hope Ankrom and Amanda Kimbrough, and over 75 other women throughout the state of Alabama, directly conflict with the recommendations of leading medical authorities who agree that such prosecutions are bad for babies and undermine maternal, fetal, and child health.

The Alabama Supreme Court’s decision in Ex Parte Ankrom and Kimbrough radically reinterpreted Alabama state law to permit the prosecution and punishment of pregnant women who go to term. In this decision, a majority of the court held that the word “child” in the state’s “Chemical Endangerment” statute applies to fertilized eggs, embryos, and fetuses. Alabama’s 2006 Chemical Endangerment law does not address pregnant women or pregnancy and was passed to deter people from bringing children to places where controlled substances are produced or distributed, such as methamphetamine laboratories.

As a result of the Alabama ruling, this statute, and likely scores of other state criminal and civil laws that use the word “child,” can become the basis for subjecting women, from the moment they become pregnant, to surveillance, arrest, and punishment.

In his dissent, Chief Justice Malone wrote, “the majority's opinion raises these concerns [for] every expectant mother, in a number of complex situations that are significantly impacted by religious faith, racial background, economic status, and the nature of the conception, among many things.”


January 8, 2013

In Memory of Rona Seider

On Monday, January 7, 2013 Rona Seider died. Rona (also known as “Rona from Nassau” in her funny and thoughtful calls to WNYC Radio describing everything from legal issues to making gefilte fish for Passover) was a life-long advocate for civil rights and women’s rights. The Nassau County Women’s Bar Association recognized her extraordinary contributions to women and the law by creating an annual award named for her. I loved Rona’s strength, commitment, courage, and kindness. I will miss her greatly.

All of us at NAPW appreciate Rona and Hal's longtime support of NAPW. We are grateful beyond measure and profoundly moved that her family requested that donations be made in her honor to National Advocates for Pregnant Women.

Lynn Paltrow

January 7, 2013

Abortion, Drugs, & Class: NAPW in the News

This holiday season has been anything but quiet in terms of news about pregnant women and NAPW's advocacy on their behalf.

National Advocates for Pregnant Women does not shy away from hard cases or the real lives of pregnant women. This week's cover story for The New Republic, "The Rise of Do-It-Yourself Abortions," discusses the Jennie McCormack case in Idaho and NAPW's work on behalf of all pregnant women. Ms. McCormack was unable to access abortion services in Southern Idaho, but found a way to have an abortion and was then arrested for doing so. This thoughtful piece by journalist Ada Calhoun highlights NAPW's willingness to advocate on behalf of Ms. McCormack and discusses her recent victory in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. The story also relies upon NAPW's data, soon to be published as an article this January in the peer-reviewed Journal of Health Politics, Policy and Law entitled: "Arrests of and Forced Interventions on Pregnant Women in the United States, 1973-2005: Implications for Women's Legal Status and Public Health."

This New Republic story discusses barriers to abortion, including everything from new state law restrictions to the 1976 Hyde Amendment that banned most types of federal abortion funding. It also reveals what life is like for too many low-income pregnant women and mothers in America today - one filled with barriers to health care and the economic struggle to support their families through low paying jobs with no benefits and no security.

Today's New York Daily News story, "WEED OUT: More than a dozen city maternity wards regularly test new moms for marijuana and other drugs," also focuses on low-income mothers who become targets for nonconsensual drug testing. This testing too often results in highly intrusive and extremely counterproductive civil child welfare interventions. The story explains that:

"Private hospitals in rich neighborhoods rarely test new mothers for drugs, whereas hospitals serving primarily low-income moms make those tests routine and sometimes mandatory. "It's absolutely discriminatory," said Lynn Paltrow of the National Advocates for Pregnant Women. "This all comes out of the same history of racism, the drug war, misinformation."

This piece brings to light a major aspect of the war on drugs that receives very little attention - its role in the child welfare system and its use in undermining the health and well being of low-income pregnant women, mothers, and their families. This is a breakthrough story in many ways, including its reliance on expert affidavits. One notable expert, Carl Hart, PhD, who is quoted in the story states, "All the scientific research," leads to the conclusion "that recreational use of marijuana does not undermine responsible parenting."

As a result of this story, NAPW's Executive Director Lynn Paltrow was interviewed and will appear tonight on television at 5:00 p.m. EST, Wednesday, December 26, 2012, on WPIX 11.

NAPW does not believe that one's civil and human rights should be determined by pregnancy, race, class, or the myths perpetuated by the war on drugs.

Please use this Holiday time to make a donation to NAPW to help us continue our effective work on behalf of all pregnant women.

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