Hard to Imagine a More Absolute Denial of a Woman's Personhood

This New Year began with boldfaced reminders that there are an increasing number of laws and policies that are being used to create a second-class status for pregnant women.

With Katherine Taylor (author of the brilliant 1998 article "Compelling Pregnancy at Death's Door"), NAPW wrote a commentary for RH Reality Check, bringing attention to the fact that pregnancy exclusion laws that exist in more than 30 states explicitly establish a separate and unequal status for women. As we explained in the commentary "Rather than archaic sexist laws left on the books from earlier times, the pregnancy exclusions are of a recent vintage. They establish that while men are free to determine what will happen to them if they become sick and unable to communicate their health-care wishes, women who may become pregnant are not free to plan the course of their health care, lives, and deaths."

The case of the now 20-week pregnant Marlise Munoz in Texas is highlighting such laws and NAPW is working to expose how all laws that advance separate rights for fertilized eggs, embryos, and fetuses deprive pregnant women of their personhood: "It is hard to imagine a more absolute denial of a woman's personhood than depriving her of the right to decide her own future, and then literally using her body without permission-possibly for weeks or months-as an object for a fetus to grow in."

NAPW is also challenging a New Jersey Appellate Court decision that establishes a separate and unequal status for pregnant women who need and want drug treatment. Last week, NAPW and co-counsel Lawrence S. Lustberg of Gibbons P.C. filed an amicus curiae (friend of the court) brief on behalf of 76 organizations and experts in maternal, fetal, and child health, addiction treatment, and health advocacy. The brief urged the New Jersey Supreme Court to overturn a lower court ruling that, if upheld, would effectively ban pregnant women from receiving methadone treatment even though it is the treatment that the federal government, international health organizations, and the state of New Jersey itself recommends for treating opioid dependence.

As reported in Alcoholism & Drug Abuse Weekly "the lower court ruling could also be applied to any pregnant women who requires medication that may have adverse effects on the newborn, including women with epilepsy, depression, and blood clots." The court is expected to hear oral arguments later this year. Among the groups represented are the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American Psychiatric Association, the American Public Health Association, the American Society of Addiction Medicine, and the Medical Society of New Jersey.

NAPW's work challenging laws, policies, and practices that undermine women's personhood, that are counterproductive to maternal, fetal, and child health, and that advance the war on drugs to women's wombs is gaining increasing attention. We are pleased that our work has been recognized in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine in "Physicians and the (Woman's) Body Politic," by Professor R. Alta Charo, in The Nation online, in "No Longer Human," by NARAL President Ilyse Hogue, and on another MSNBC segment featuring Dr. Carl Hart.

NAPW fights for policies that respect women and families. We hope that you will join NAPW's effort to ensure that, upon becoming pregnant and through all stages of labor and delivery, women retain their civil and human rights.