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April 29, 2014

Tennessee Ignores Experts, Advocates, Passes Measure Harmful to Babies & Families

April 29, 2014

Cherisse Scott: (901) 310-5488
Farah Diaz-Tello: (212) 255-9252

Tennessee Passes Measure Criminalizing Pregnancy Outcomes

Tennessee Ignores Experts, Advocates, Passes Measure
Harmful to Babies & Families

With Governor Bill Haslam's signature of the Pregnancy Criminalization Law, SB 1391, Tennessee has become the first state to ignore the warnings of medical and public health experts to pass a law criminalizing pregnancy outcomes.

A coalition of groups that worked to oppose the bill when it was before the General Assembly rallied support for a veto nationally and internationally. A petition circulated by SisterReach, Healthy and Free Tennessee, National Advocates for Pregnant Women with RH Reality Check gathered over 11,000 signatures, which were hand-delivered to the Governor's office last Friday, along with a letter from more than 25 organizations dedicated to ensuring all families have access to the health care they need. Experts such as the American Academy of Pediatrics, the International Doctors for Healthier Drug Policy, and the National Perinatal Association sent letters to Governor Haslam asking him to protect the health of Tennessee families by vetoing the Pregnancy Criminalization Law.

Tennessee advocates shared a concern for the disproportionate impact this law will have on poor mothers, mothers of color and their families. Cherisse A. Scott, founder and CEO of SisterReach, noted "Despite our advocacy attempts and regardless of the impact this law will have on marginalized families; despite the danger that medical professionals have noted a law of this magnitude will cause, our governor chose his party over the experts. This law separates mothers from their children and is not patient-centered. Tennessee families who are already being hit the hardest by policies such as the failure to expand Medicaid, poverty and a lack of available drug treatment facilities will be most deeply impacted by this bill. Mothers struggling with drug addiction in Shelby County, rural communities throughout Tennessee and poor mothers and their families will be the ones who suffer the effects of this dangerous legislation the most."

Advocates understand that the law will harm mothers and babies by driving women away from prenatal care. Rebecca Terrell, Chair of the statewide coalition Healthy and Free Tennessee, was disappointed. "We are very sorry to see that Governor Haslam let an opportunity to do the right thing slip through his fingers. The experts could not have been clearer: this law is bad for babies and bad for Tennessee."

This concern was echoed by the acting head of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy who criticized the measure on a recent trip to Nashville, telling The Tennessean "What's important is that we create environments where we're really diminishing the stigma and the barriers, particularly for pregnant women, who often have a lot of shame and guilt about their substance abuse disorders." There is also concern among drug treatment providers that the law as passed does not permit women to seek methadone or buprenorphine maintenance, the gold-standard of treatment for pregnant women addicted to narcotics, as part of the defense against prosecution under the law. Maintenance, rather than detoxification, is recommended because of the risk of pregnancy loss from withdrawal.

The vague wording of the law has left unanswered questions about how it will be carried out. "We feel that the Administration and the General Assembly were misled here," said Farah Diaz-Tello, staff attorney for National Advocates for Pregnant Women. "Prosecutors claimed that this bill only permitted misdemeanor charges, but any public defender in the state can tell you that this is not how the law will be used. What is a misdemeanor in Memphis is charged as
a felony out in the counties."

Legal challenges to prosecutions under this law are anticipated. The bill has a sunset of 2016, but advocates feel that this is too long to wait for Tennessee families.

April 22, 2014

Alabama Supreme Court Rules That Women Can Be Charged With Chemical Endangerment if They Become Pregnant and Use a Controlled Substance

April 22, 2014

Contacts: Laura Huss 212-255-9252, mlh@advocatesforpregnantwomen.org or Tony Newman 646-335-5384, tnewman@drugpolicy.org

Alabama Supreme Court Rules That Women Can Be Charged With Chemical Endangerment if They Become Pregnant and Use a Controlled Substance

Health Professionals Call For Medical Care and Treatment Instead of Imprisonment and Punishment
In National First, Alabama Supreme Court Justices Moore and Parker Express Willingness to Punish Women Who Have Abortions as Murderers

New York, NY - On Friday, April 18, 2014, the Alabama Supreme Court issued a 8-1 decision in Ex Parte Hicks upholding the conviction of Sara Hicks, who gave birth to a healthy baby who tested positive for cocaine in 2008. This decision affirmed the Court's prior ruling in Ex Parte Ankrom, holding that that the plain meaning of the word "child" in the Alabama law unambiguously includes fertilized eggs and that pregnant women may be arrested for using a controlled substance while pregnant.

The chemical endangerment law was passed in 2006 to deter people from bringing children to places where controlled substances are produced or distributed, such as methamphetamine laboratories. Since 2006, more than 100 women who became pregnant and tested positive for a controlled substance have been arrested. Some have experienced pregnancy losses, but the majority – like Sara Hicks – have continued their pregnancies to term and given birth to healthy children.

As a result of the rulings in Ankrom and Hicks, there is no exception from prosecution for pregnant women who used controlled substances that are prescribed by physicians. (See "Your Epidural is Against the Law: What Alabama Women and Doctors Need to Know".) Because Justice Moore's concurring opinion in Hicks relies on Biblical citations and God's authority, the decision may also raise First Amendment establishment clause questions.

Chief Justice Moore wrote a separate concurring opinion “to emphasize that the inalienable right to life is a gift of God” that not only justifies the decision in Hicks, but also requires that Roe v. Wade be overturned – and that pregnant women be punished whether they use a controlled substance or terminate a pregnancy. Justice Parker wrote a special concurring opinion to explain how the Hicks case fits into a “line of decisions affirming Alabama's recognition of the sanctity of life from the earliest stages of development,” and equating a woman who has an abortion to a “killer.”

In response, National Advocates for Pregnant Women (NAPW) released a statement from founder and executive director Lynn Paltrow:

"It is very unusual for a state supreme court to take a case to address a settled issue of law. It appears that the court accepted the Hicks case for the purpose of more fully articulating a view that pregnant women are proper subjects of Alabama's criminal justice system and a growing state and national system of mass incarceration.

"In a national first, Chief Justice Moore and Justice Parker's concurring opinions clearly express the view that women who have abortions should be subject to prosecution and incarceration. This decision demands response from national 'right to life' organizations and political leaders who seek to have Roe overturned. With the Chief Justice of a state supreme court now on record as viewing both women who give birth to healthy babies and women who have abortions as criminals, it is time proponents of anti-abortion laws and so-called 'personhood' measures address the punishment women will be subjected to as a result of their policy proposals.

"According to the majority and concurring opinions, Alabama purports to affirm the sanctity of life by establishing a separate and unequal law for pregnant women creating unique and additional criminal penalties in relationship to drug use. The decisions in Ankrom and Hicks empower police, prosecutors, and prison wardens to oversee prenatal care and motherhood, and by adopting policies that every leading medical group warns will undermine the health, safety and wellbeing of children born and unborn."

Tamar Todd, Senior Staff Attorney at the Drug Policy Alliance, stated: "Such prosecutions of pregnant women are misguided because they treat drug use and addiction as a moral failing that will respond to threats of punishment. The health of women and children will be improved if pregnant women are given access to medical care and treatment rather than deterred from seeking it through threats of imprisonment."

As a result of the decisions in Ankrom and Hicks, Alabama joined South Carolina as one of only two states that authorize the prosecution of pregnant women. Recently, Tennessee became the first state where the legislature actually voted to pass this kind of criminal law. This led to a New York Times editorial last Sunday titled “Criminalizing Expectant Mothers” that declared, “Prosecutors should have no role in overseeing prenatal care.”

National Advocates for Pregnant Women, the Drug Policy Alliance, and the Southern Poverty Law Center filed an amicus (friend of the court) brief in Ankrom on behalf of 49 medical, public health, and health advocacy groups and experts opposing the judicial expansion of the chemical endangerment law to pregnant women and mothers. The Drug Policy Alliance and the Southern Poverty Law Center also filed an amicus brief in Hicks on behalf of medical, public health, and health advocacy groups.

Big News! Breakthrough Editorial in The New York Times

For years, NAPW has worked with leading medical experts and organizations challenging the myths and misinformation about pregnant drug-using women that have been used to hurt all pregnant women and establish precedent for overturning Roe v. Wade. Despite these efforts and NAPW's overwhelming record of success in challenging punitive prosecutions and measures, Tennessee is on the verge of becoming the first state to enact a criminal law explicitly permitting the prosecution of women for their pregnancy outcomes.

On Tuesday, The New York Times ran a story about the legislation, "Specialists Join Call for Veto of Drug Bill," that quotes NAPW's staff attorney Farah Diaz-Tello. Today, The New York Times' Editorial Board published "Criminalizing Expectant Mothers," calling on Tennessee's Governor Haslam to veto the law. The Times clearly heard NAPW's message: "Prosecutors should have no role in overseeing prenatal care."

Both the news story and the editorial reflect years of NAPW's advocacy, public education, and organizing efforts, including our collaborative work with coalition allies in Tennessee, such as SisterReach and Healthy and Free Tennessee, and around the country, including Young Women United, RH Reality Check, SisterSong, and WV FREE.

The Huffington Post recently published an infographic based on NAPW's research: Where Laws Intended To Protect Women Are Used Against Them. It illustrates that even without laws like Tennessee's, pregnant women are being arrested, whether they experience miscarriages and stillbirths, give birth, or attempt to end a pregnancy.

Tennessee legislators have essentially passed a law that is itself a form of child abuse, deliberately defying the American Academy of Pediatrics and other leading medical organizations that have all concluded that using threats of arrest against pregnant women is bad for babies by increasing the risks of harm to children, born and unborn. Proponents of the law claim that it is a "velvet hammer" to force women into treatment. We say taking a hammer to a pregnant woman (velvet covered or otherwise) is a form of violence against women.

Thousands have called for a veto of SB1391 by signing the petition on RH Reality Check or by contacting Governor Haslam directly.

We hope that Governor Haslam will veto the law. But if he does sign it into law, NAPW will continue our work with public defenders and our Tennessee-based allies to get the charges dismissed as unconstitutional, irrational, and a violation of basic human rights.

Please help us continue this fight.

April 15, 2014

Urgent Action Needed: Tell TN that Arresting Pregnant Women is Bad for Babies

Families in Tennessee need your help to keep the state from making a costly mistake that will undermine maternal, fetal, and child health. Last week, both chambers of Tennessee's legislature passed SB 1391, putting Tennessee on the threshold of becoming the first state ever to enact a law that explicitly criminalizes pregnancy outcomes. Grassroots Tennessee organizations, including Healthy and Free Tennessee and SisterReach, have been fighting this law for months, but now they need your help. The bill is awaiting Governor Bill Haslam's signature and will pass into law unless he vetoes it this week.

As reported by Cosmopolitan, this law would permit drug-using women to be arrested, prosecuted, and incarcerated. But, as RH Reality Check points out, the law goes much further and has the potential to make a criminal of any pregnant woman who suffers a loss or gives birth to a baby with health problems. Melissa Harris-Perry of MSNBC wrote an open letter to Governor Haslam explaining the devastating impacts on mothers, babies, and families that will result from threatening pregnant women with arrest when what they need most is health care.

SB 1391 is unconstitutional, creating separate and unequal laws for women who become pregnant, and irrationally threatening arrest rather than providing support and treatment.

What you can do:

    Share the petition with people in your networks, especially those in Tennessee.
    If you are a physician or a professional involved in treatment of pregnant women, children, or families: We urge you to call the Governor's office TODAY and explain to him how dangerous SB 1391 is.
Office of Governor Bill Haslam
(615) 741-2001
1st Floor, State Capitol
Nashville, TN 37243

Let Governor Haslam know:
    Criminalizing mothers is bad for babies. As every leading medical group to address this issue has concluded, such laws will deter women from what care is available, create incentives for unwanted abortions by women who cannot guarantee healthy birth outcomes, and will not increase access to treatment.
    Prosecutors are not doctors, and jails aren't treatment. Allowing police and prosecutors to oversee pregnancy, maternity care, and family health is dangerous and counterproductive.
    The "defenses" to the law are at best a fairytale. Portions of the law that appear to provide treatment as an alternative to arrest provide no protection for women addicted to narcotics. For example, the law excludes methadone and other ongoing maintenance treatments by requiring women to "complete a program" to avoid incarceration.

Act now to ensure that Tennessee women most in need of compassionate care are given health care, not handcuffs.

Support NAPW so that we can continue to provide analysis of laws like these and challenge them in the courts if they are enacted.

April 4, 2014

Mississippi Murder Charge Against Pregnant Teen Dismissed

APRIL 4, 2014

Laura Huss: 215-208-6938


Yesterday, April 3, 2014, Mississippi Lowndes County Circuit Judge, Jim Kitchens, dismissed the murder charge against Rennie Gibbs. Ms. Gibbs, now 24, was charged with “depraved heart” murder after experiencing a stillbirth at 36 weeks of pregnancy. She was then only 16 years old. Relying on the medical examiner’s report in Ms. Gibbs’ case, the prosecutor claimed – without scientific support – that the stillbirth was caused by her cocaine use.

“We are pleased the murder charge was dismissed,” said Robert McDuff of McDuff & Byrd, Mississippi Defense Counsel. “We will have further discussions in the coming weeks with the District Attorney’s office in an effort to persuade them not to indict Ms. Gibbs for manslaughter or any other crime.” McDuff added, “In our view, neither the law nor the evidence justify prosecuting this young woman, who was a teenager at the time, and we hope this is the end of it. But if further charges are brought, we will return to court in her defense.”

According to Mishka Terplan, MD, MPH, clinician and researcher, “While research in the 1980s raised the concern that there might be an association between cocaine and stillbirths, in the subsequent 25 years of research no data has been found to support a causal relationship between cocaine use and stillbirths.”

This case became the subject of national attention, in part because of questions about the state's medical examiner in the case, the questionable scientific claims it is based on, and the use of Mississippi’s murder statutes against pregnant women and mothers:

Nina Martin, ProPublica, “A Stillborn Child, A Charge of Murder, and the Disputed Case Law on ‘Fetal Harm’”

Sadhbh Walshe, The Guardian, “Is miscarriage murder? States that put fetal rights ahead of a mother’s say so,” (original accompanying photograph)

Radley Balko, The Washington Post, “Another Mississippi outrage: Young mother faces life in prison for stillborn child”

“The biggest threats to life – born and unborn – do not come from mothers, but rather from poverty, barriers to health care, persistent racism, environmental hazards, and prosecutions like this one,” said Lynn Paltrow, Executive Director of National Advocates for Pregnant Women and co-counsel in the case. She explained, “Prosecutions like these increase risks to babies by frightening pregnant women away from care and use tax dollars to expand the criminal justice system rather than to fund programs that actually protect the health of children.”

More than 70 organizations and experts were represented as amicus (friend of the court) in briefs in support of Ms. Gibbs’ case calling for the dismissal of the murder charge.

In articles reporting on the dismissal, Assistant District Attorney Mark Jackson suggested the state was considering seeking an indictment for manslaughter against Ms. Gibbs in the upcoming July grand jury session.

Ms. Rennie Gibbs is also represented by Carrie Jourdan of Liberty Bell Law Group.

April 2, 2014

We rallied at the Supreme Court. Next we speak in NY, CA, & MA. Join us!

KJS, FDT, MLH - #Notmybossbusiness in DC.jpg

On Tuesday, NAPW rallied in front of the US Supreme Court in Washington, DC to support the human right to comprehensive health care coverage, and against private corporations denying women's right to health in the guise of religious freedom. Over the next few weeks, NAPW will be speaking at and participating in a number of important public events and conferences in New York City, Boston, Oakland, and Amherst, MA. We hope to see you there!

NYU School of Law Carr Center for RJ Conference - New York City
New York University (NYU) School of Law Carr Center for Reproductive Justice will hold its first annual conference, "Reproductive Rights Law: Where is the Woman?," on Tuesday, April 1 at Vanderbilt Hall, 40 Washington Square South, NYC. Since its inception, the Carr Center RJ Clinic has worked closely with NAPW, including as co-counsel for Alicia Beltran in Wisconsin. NAPW's Executive Director and NYU School of Law graduate, Lynn Paltrow, will speak about "Making women's personhood central: Ensuring that upon becoming pregnant and through all stages of labor and delivery, pregnant women retain their civil and human rights." Other featured speakers include the amazing Carol Gilligan, R. Alta Charo, Peggy Cooper Davis, Lori Adelman, Irin Carmon, Jill Filipovic, Jessica Mason Pieklo, and Dorothy Roberts.

The conference is free and open to the public. More information about registration and attendance can be found on the Carr Center website. If you are unable to attend, join us by following the conversation on twitter: #CarrConf

Harvard Medical School Lawrence Lader Lectureship - Boston, MA
NAPW Executive Director, Lynn Paltrow, was invited by the Harvard Medical School to deliver the 2013-2014 Lawrence Lader Lectureship on Family Planning and Reproductive Rights on Thursday, April 3. Ms. Paltrow's address, "Roe v. Wade Today: Reproductive Justice in the Age of Mass Incarceration," will be given as a Grand Rounds in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Massachusetts General Hospital on Thursday from 8:30 am - 9:30 am. Continuing Medical Education (CME) credits are available for physicians.

National Association for Ethnic Studies Conference - Oakland, CA
NAPW's Staff Attorney, Farah Diaz-Tello, will present at the 42nd Annual National Association for Ethnic Studies Conference on Saturday, April 5. This year's conference, "Research as Ceremony: Decolonizing Ethnic Studies," will be held at Mills College in Oakland, CA and Ms. Diaz-Tello will participate on the "Birth Justice: Building a Movement" panel. For more information, visit the conference website and read the press release.

Civil Liberties & Public Policy (CLPP) Conference - Amherst, MA
The 28th Annual CLPP Conference, "From Abortion Rights to Social Justice: Building the Movement for Reproductive Freedom," will be held at Hampshire College from Friday, April 11 to Sunday, April 13. NAPW is a 2014 Conference Sponsor and its staff will be speaking and participating in this year's conference. Farah Diaz-Tello will speak on Saturday, April 12 on a "Birth Justice" panel, Kylee Sunderlin will participate on a panel addressing "State Violence and the Criminalization of our Communities" on Friday, April 11, and NAPW will engage with activists of all ages at its exhibit table all weekend. Visit the CLPP Conference website for more information about the weekend and how to attend!

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