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March 27, 2013

April 6, 2013: Rally for Bei Bei Shuai and Against the New Jane Crow

Indianapolis-based student, social justice, and faith-based activists are planning a rally in support of Bei Bei Shuai and against separate and unequal laws for pregnant women. The Rally will take place on April 6 at 2pm in front of the City Market (222 E. Market Street) in downtown Indianapolis, Indiana. Please join us there!

More than two years ago Bei Bei Shuai was pregnant and, in an act of desperation, sought to kill herself. Friends intervened and got her to a hospital in time. She survived and did everything she could to ensure that her baby would too, including undergoing emergency cesarean surgery. The baby was born alive, but tragically did not survive.

Attempting suicide is not a crime in Indiana, yet the state responded to this tragic situation by arresting Ms. Shuai on charges of murder of a viable fetus and attempted feticide. According to the state of Indiana, attempted feticide may be charged whenever a pregnant woman engages in any intentional action that threatens the life of a fertilized egg, embryo, or fetus. The Supreme Court of Indiana refused to dismiss the charges against Ms. Shuai even though scores of medical, mental health, public health, and health advocacy groups explained why doing so is crucial to protecting maternal, child, and fetal health. It has been more than two years since Ms. Shuai was criminally charged. She spent a full year in jail deprived of her constitutional right to bail. She was finally granted bail and released from jail, but she is far from free -- Ms. Shaui must pay $12 a day to wear an electronic monitor.

This case affects all pregnant women -- and really all women of childbearing age. If upheld it means that Indiana will have a system of separate and unequal law for women: a new Jane Crow. For example, attempting suicide will be a crime -- but only for women who are pregnant. Every intentional action or inaction by a pregnant woman that could lead to the death of a fertilized egg, embryo, or fetus would be covered under the feticide law, relegating all pregnant women to a "special" class of persons who may be subject to surveillance, control and punishment. Declining a doctor's advice for bed rest, prenatal tests, or cesarean surgery could all be treated as attempted feticide. (Threats of arrest and actual arrests in such situations are not hypothetical.) Indeed, every fertile woman will be responsible at all times for knowing if she is pregnant so she can determine if an action or inaction might be the crime of feticide, attempted feticide, or attempted murder.

Ms. Shuai's case has garnered an outpouring of online support from around the world that has surprised even the prosecutor, as he admits in this video from the Indianapolis Star. You can help continue this momentum by supporting a rally to take place on April 6 in Indianapolis! There are 3 important ways you can support this effort:

  1. Show up! Join NAPW's Executive Director, Lynn Paltrow, in Indiana on April 6th and encourage your students, friends, family, or local organization members to attend too. And then, encourage them again! Having people show up in person sends a strong message: We stand with Bei Bei! We stand for equality, justice, and freedom!

  2. Spread the word! Please share this event with your networks. Visit (and share widely!) the Facebook event that tells people where and when to show up. Blog about it! Share the flyers! Send an email blast to your supporters! Sign the online petition!

  3. Speak out! As NAPW's Board President, Jeanne Flavin, and Executive Director, Lynn Paltrow, explain in "Toward a "Pro Lives" Perspective that Values the Lives of Pregnant Women and the Well-Being of Our Nation," there is strong opposition across party lines and in spite of political labels to giving states the power to lock up and tie down pregnant women.

If you are in Indianapolis you can hear Lynn Paltrow speak at:

March 18, 2013

Toward a “Pro Lives” Perspective that Values the Lives of Pregnant Women and the Well-Being of Our Nation

By Jeanne Flavin and Lynn Paltrow
(This commentary appears on Mobilizing Ideas a production of The Center for the Study of Social Movements at the University of Notre Dame)

As other contributors to this series have observed, “pro life” and “pro choice” do not adequately capture the dimensions and diversity of opinions and experiences that people have with regard to abortion and, as we will make clear, a whole lot more. Drawing upon our own observations formed during decades of gender scholarship and legal advocacy, we join others in their critique of the pro-life/pro-choice dichotomy. As part of that conversation, we offer “pro-lives” as a term that more accurately reflects the values of people on all sides of the abortion debate.

We begin by noting that while similar numbers of people identify as pro-choice and pro-life, some 43 percent of all Americans (including 51 percent of all Catholics and 59 percent of Black Protestants) identify as both pro-life and pro-choice. We also point out an extraordinary diversity of opinion and perspective regarding beliefs about the morality of abortion and the extent to which people think abortion should be restricted or Roe v. Wade overturned. Regardless of their political party, most people do not hold a hard-line position on abortion. More than two out of three Latino registered voters, for instance, agreed that “even though church leaders take a position against abortion, when it comes to the law, I believe it should remain legal.”

As many before us have recognized, the terms “pro-life” and “pro-choice” (and their relatives, the “anti-s”) fail to reflect the values and beliefs of those to whom the terms are often applied. Since the 1990s, women of color leaders have offered a comprehensive alternative vision to the pro-choice framework. The language of “choice” did not describe the experiences of racism, poverty, and other structural barriers that left many people without choices, including the choice of going to term and being able to parent with dignity. Integrating the concepts of reproductive rights, social justice and human rights, Loretta Ross and other members of Sistersong created the concept of “reproductive justice.” As Jessica Gonzalez-Rojas and Kierra Johnson recently explained, reproductive justice presents a collective vision: “a world where all people have the social, political, and economic power and resources to make healthy decisions about gender, bodies, sexuality, reproduction, and families for themselves and their communities.”

Others have also challenged the pro-choice framework and the false dichotomy between pro-life and pro-choice. For example, Exhale, an organization that offers a non-judgmental , was founded to advance a “pro-voice” framework. Regardless of their personal views about abortion, many people have abortions or know people who have. Recognizing this, Exhale works to create an environment where each person’s experience and perspective about abortion is “supported, respected, and free of stigma.” More recently, Planned Parenthood announced its decision to move away from the language of “pro-choice”. While the term “pro-choice” has been discussed and critiqued at some length, we focus here on the term “pro-life” and its limitations in discussions of abortion.

In the context of pregnant women and abortion, the “life” in pro-life is singular, that is, limited to only one life: the unborn life. It excludes the lives (plural) of the pregnant woman’s existing children, her other family members, and the life of the pregnant woman herself—even if that means she might die. The singularity of the pro-life position is particularly clear in the case of Angela Carder. In that case, the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops (USCCB) argued that court-ordered cesarean surgery on Ms. Carder was justified because the only life that mattered was that of the unborn child. The USCCB insisted the surgery was necessary to advance the rights of the unborn child even though Ms. Carder opposed the surgery and wanted interventions that might prolong her own life. The USCCB defended their position despite the fact that the forced surgery contributed to her death and the fetus was so far from viability that it was born alive but did not survive. More recently, this exclusive focus on unborn life prompted a bishop to revoke the official Catholic designation of a hospital in Phoenix, Arizona after staff there permitted the termination of a pregnancy to save the life of a mother who was experiencing an ectopic pregnancy.

In order to protect unborn life in the singular, the “pro-life” position demands public policies that treat fertilized eggs, embryos and fetuses as legal entities completely separate from the pregnant woman. Such a position requires outlawing abortion in all circumstances. As leading medical and public health organizations recognize, these pro-life policies provide the basis for undermining maternal, fetal, and child health and the lives (plural) of pregnant women, new mothers, and their families. Locking up women who have or seek to have abortions (most of whom are already mothers) not only imposes an extraordinary punishment on the woman who is incarcerated, but also on the children who are separated from her. And, as our research on hundreds of cases documents, post-Roe anti-abortion and pro-life measures have been used to justify the arrests, detentions of and forced interventions on pregnant women whether they are seeking to end a pregnancy or to continue one to term.

We are confident that many people who identify as “pro-life” are, in fact, pro-lives. These are people who care not only about unborn life in the singular, but also the lives of pregnant women, mothers, and their families and communities. In the example mentioned above, nearly three-quarters of the Catholics in the diocese sided with the Phoenix hospital’s decision to save the life of the mother.

Many people who are deeply opposed to abortion and who might be labeled “pro-life” do not want to see women with ectopic pregnancies die when Catholic hospitals deny them abortion. Similarly, they probably do not want doctors to be empowered to threaten to arrest pregnant women who disagree with their advice, as happened recently in Florida. Because many people who are “pro-life” and who oppose abortion are in fact pro-lives, they do not want women to be arrested, charged as criminals, humiliated at trial and incarcerated, including women like:

In contrast to the pro-life position with its almost exclusive focus on the abortion issue, a pro-lives position reflects concern for the millions of people in the United States who do not have health insurance, safe and stable housing, a living wage, or enough to eat. “Pro-lives” clearly includes those Catholics who, by a margin of nearly 2 to 1, want a greater focus on social justice and helping the poor, even if less attention is given to abortion. Most Americans (including Catholics) also agree that the economic system unfairly favors the wealthy and that one of the big problems in the U.S. is that not everyone is given an equal chance in life. Sister Pat Farrell’s recent challenge to the Church to think beyond a singular pro-fetus perspective and advocate more broadly for social justice (discussed elsewhere in this series) and the USCCB’s own stated advocacy positions (e.g., those concerning economic justice) similarly point to a pro-lives perspective.

It seems that most people, regardless of their views of abortion, want a more just society overall. In our view, this includes ensuring that pregnant women retain their right to life as well as all other rights associated with constitutional personhood. We hope that most people take strong issue, as we do, with a society that allows women to be subjected to a separate and unequal system of law that would punish them for attempting suicide, falling down a flight of stairs, or exercising their right to medical decision making.

To that end, and in the interest of advancing reproductive justice, we invite people of all political persuasions and faith traditions (and of none) to adopt, or at least consider, a “pro-lives” perspective. Such a position is consistent with the demand for reproductive and social justice. It also challenges us to embrace a true culture of life that values all life including the lives of women who give birth to and sustain that life.

March 15, 2013

Experts Challenge Inaccurate Reports about Pregnant Women & Rx Opiate Use

We are pleased to let you know that today more than 40 leading United States and international medical and psychological researchers and experts released a letter to media outlets and policy makers countering misleading and alarmist reporting about pregnant women and prescription opiate use. This kind of reporting about pregnant women and drug use has encouraged numerous counterproductive policies and laws that deprive pregnant women of their fundamental rights and undermine maternal, fetal, and child health.

NAPW Board Member and international expert on methadone treatment, Dr. Robert Newman, spearheaded this effort. You can read the full letter below. Please share this important information with your friends, colleagues, organizations, and elected representatives.


Science and Medical Leaders Urge Media to End Inaccurate Reporting on Prescription Opiate Use by Pregnant Women

Letter Sent to CNN, NBC, ABC, USA Today,
Wall Street Journal and Others

New York, March 13, 2013 - More than 40 leading United States and international medical and psychological researchers and experts released a letter to media outlets and policy makers today urging evidence-based coverage on the issue of prescription opiate use by pregnant women.

An increasing number of news articles have focused on the use and misuse of prescription opiates by pregnant women. Opiates are a class of drugs that have a critical role in controlling acute and chronic pain. They also include such medications as methadone and buprenorphine used as "maintenance" treatment to eliminate or minimize symptoms of withdrawal in people who have become addicted to prescription opiates or to opiates obtained illegally. If a pregnant woman uses opiates or receives maintenance treatment during pregnancy her newborn may experience neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS). NAS, a possible side effect of prenatal exposure to opiates and medications used in the treatment of opiates, can be readily treated and has never been shown to lead to any long-term adverse effects.

Reporting about this issue that is not based on science encourages policies that undermine maternal, fetal, and child health. The doctors and researchers who collaborated in the release of this consensus statement urge that the media stop inaccurate and alarmist reporting on the subject. They joined together to challenge "reporting that, very literally, threatens the lives, health, and safety of children."

They were motivated by media coverage that:
  • Largely ignores almost 50 years of research showing the value of methadone and more recently buprenorphine treatment and instead stimatizes treatment known to be beneficial to pregnant women, their children and their communities;

  • Ignores well-established, cost effective protocols that treat and resolve neonatal abstinence syndrome when it occurs;

  • Disregards lack of training of medical personnel in addiction, addiction treatment and protocols for the effective management of newborns who experience NAS;

  • Focuses blame on pregnant women and counterproductively portrays them as perpetrators of harm to their offspring;

  • Consistently uses medically inaccurate terms that brand newborns as "addicted" or as victims;

  • Suggests long-term harms to children that have not been shown to be associated with opiate intake - prescribed or unprescribed - during pregnancy.

This letter follows a recent U.N. Human Rights Council Report on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment harshly criticizing policies that deny drug-users long-term maintenance treatment with methadone or buprenorphine. The report notes that "A particular form of ill-treatment and possibly torture of drug users is the denial of opiate substitution treatment."

The full text of this letter is available here.

For more information about the Open Letter, or for interview requests please contact:
Dr. Robert Newman,
Director, The Baron Edmond de Rothschild Chemical Dependency Institute of Beth Israel Medical Center, New York, NY
Phone: 212-523-8390
E-mail: rnewman@icaat.org

March 6, 2013

Press Statement: Florida Doctor Threat of Arrest of Pregnant Woman Dangerous and Without Legal Authority

March 6, 2013

CONTACT: Farah Diaz-Tello
212-255-9252 ext. 31

National Advocates for Pregnant Women
Press Statement
Florida Doctor Threat of Arrest of Pregnant Woman Dangerous and Without Legal Authority

Tampa, Florida: Ms. Lisa Epsteen, a Florida woman who is pregnant, reached out today to National Advocates for Pregnant Women (NAPW) for advice. According to Ms. Epsteen, she was being threatened with arrest if she did not immediately go to the hospital and submit to cesarean surgery. An email from Jerome Yankowitz, M.D., the Chair of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of South Florida, to Ms. Epsteen threatens that the providers of Tampa General Hospital and the University of South Florida may have “no choice” but “to move to the most extreme option, which is having law enforcement pick you up at your home and bring you in.”

NAPW has sent a letter to the hospital explaining that the threat of arrest lacks justification in both law and medical ethics. Farah Diaz-Tello, NAPW Staff Attorney explained, “Women do not lose their rights to medical decision making, bodily integrity and physical liberty upon becoming pregnant or at any stage of pregnancy, labor or delivery.”

Ms. Epsteen has expressed her intent to schedule cesarean surgery for later this week. Lynn Paltrow, Executive Director of NAPW stated “Any attempt to force her to undergo the surgery by means of arrest and detention in the hospital is without legal justification and in defiance of a clear medical consensus that such threats and actions undermine maternal, fetal, and child health.” Ms. Paltrow added, “Our research regarding related actions around the country (see Journal of Health Politics, Policy and Law) raises serious concerns about the misuse of state authority to deprive pregnant women of their constitutional personhood and to endanger the health of women and babies.”

March 5, 2013

NAPW's Board President Jeanne Flavin - Honored and Attacked for her Integrity

NAPW is very lucky to have Jeanne Flavin, Professor of Sociology at Fordham University, serving as our board president. We wish to congratulate her for two significant achievements.

First, Jeanne is the recipient of the 2013 Feminist Activism Award of Sociologists for Women in Society (SWS).This award goes to a member who "consistently uses sociology to better the lives of women." The award honors a person whose efforts embody the goal of service to women and the identifiable improvement of women's lives. And, apparently these stellar characteristics are why Jeanne has come under fire from the Cardinal Newman Society (CNS) - which brings us to the second significant achievement we wish to recognize.

As a new Catholic for Choice (CfC) investigative report explains, CNS is an organization that purports to "renew and strengthen Catholic identity in Catholic higher education," and does so by identifying "supposed breach[es] of dogma" at Catholic Universities and engineering negative publicity against the University and the individuals who have been targeted. According to one of the many Catholic critics of CNS quoted in the CfC report, it is an organization that "neither represent[s] the church nor the academic community. . . and yet they want to censor the academic community in the name of the church."

The CNS is known for its efforts to ban The Vagina Monologues from being performed on American Catholic school campuses. As the CfC report explains, the CNS is particularly quick to "jump on any perceived heterodoxy on issues including the following: abortion, contraception, LGBT issues, assisted reproductive technologies, euthanasia and women's ordination."

Among those targeted by CNS is Jeanne Flavin. According to the CfC report "The CNS suggested Flavin should not be working for [Fordham University, a Catholic University in the Jesuit tradition] because she is president of [the board of directors of] National Advocates for Pregnant Women, which advocates for reproductive rights."

NAPW could not be prouder or more appreciative!

According to the CfC report, Jeanne Flavin and other individuals have been targeted by CNS because of their support for "abortion and/or contraception." Jeanne is in very good company; the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius, Pulitzer prize-winning journalist Ellen Goodman, and U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen G. Breyer, among others were also identified as objects of CNS's ire.

In contrast to the Cardinal Newman Society, Jeanne is a strong advocate for encouraging dialogue and respecting differences of opinion as she beautifully explains in On Reproductive Justice and the Importance of Listening to People with Whom We Disagree.

Jeanne Flavin is the author of the award winning book Our Bodies, Our Crimes: The Policing of Women's Reproduction in America and such commentaries as How Catholic Universities' Contraceptive Ban Fails Our Students and That Sound You Don't Hear: Catholic Leadership's Response to Project Prevention.

More recently, Jeanne co-authored with Lynn Paltrow, NAPW's founder and executive director, this study "Arrests of and Forced Interventions on Pregnant Women in the United States, 1973-2005: Implications for Women's Legal Status and Public Health" published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Health Politics, Policy and Law. Jeanne is particularly proud of the favorable coverage this study has received across the political spectrum, from the National Review Online.

Please help us honor and celebrate NAPW's Board President - the brave, the magnificent Jeanne Flavin!

P.S. Jeanne would like NAPW supporters to note that she is embarrassed by the attention but loves NAPW too much to deny them their request to circulate this activist update.

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