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May 28, 2014

Forcing Pregnant Women to Have Cesarean Surgery Is Never Justified

NAPW advocates for all pregnant women, including those who want to end a pregnancy and have an abortion, those who suffer miscarriages or stillbirths, and those who go to term. We believe that no woman should be denied her human and civil rights because she is pregnant. Yet, as The New York Times reported, that is exactly what happened to Rinat Dray, who was forced to have a cesarean surgery over her express objections.

Ms. Dray went to Staten Island University Hospital to deliver her third child. When she exercised her right to medical decision-making and refused cesarean surgery, the hospital simply overruled her. Ms. Dray filed a lawsuit against the hospital and two physicians for, among other things, violation of New York's Public Health Law providing that patients have a right to refuse treatment. According to the lawsuit, a physician wrote in her medical records: "The woman has decisional capacity. I have decided to override her refusal to have a c-section."

Because of NAPW's experience documenting and challenging forced interventions on pregnant women (as well as arrests and civil child welfare actions brought against women who refuse cesarean surgery) Ms. Dray, and her counsel Michael M. Bast, of Silverstein and Bast, sought our advice and support.

With NAPW's help, Ms. Dray brought her case to public attention, exposing both what happened to her and the overuse of cesarean surgery in the United States and the coercive actions taken against pregnant women who refuse that surgery. In a press briefing coordinated by NAPW and hosted by RH Reality Check, Mr. Bast and Ms. Dray spoke about the lawsuit. NAPW Staff Attorney Farah Diaz-Tello, Elan McAllister of Choices in Childbirth, Prof. Mary Faith Marshall, PhD, FCCM (Director, Program in Biomedical Ethics, University of Virginia School of Medicine), and Katharine Morrison, MD, FACOG (Director, Buffalo WomenServices - the first combined abortion clinic and birthing center in the US) provided expert analysis of the case. The full press call is available as an archive on RH Reality Check.

As The New York Times story that followed noted: "Across the country, nearly 33 percent of births, or almost 1.3 million, were by cesarean section in 2012, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The World Health Organization recommends that the rate should not be higher than 10 to 15 percent."

NAPW will continue to advocate for Ms. Dray as her case proceeds and for all pregnant women who are denied their civil and human rights. We hope that you will join us. Stay tuned to NAPW's Facebook and Twitter for more information on how to get involved.

May 16, 2014

Some Good News for Mothers this Mother's Day Weekend

NAPW has some good news for mothers this Mother's Day weekend. And by "news," we literally mean news coverage and commentary that is good for mothers. After decades of inaccurate and stigmatizing news coverage about drug-using pregnant women and parents, NAPW is making inroads. Reporters are using investigative journalism not only to highlight social injustice, but also to expose inaccurate coverage as sensationalism in the guise of news. Here are three recent and important examples:

This week, NBCNews.com, ran a terrific long-form story, "Pregnant on Opiates: When Following Doctors' Orders Breaks the Law" by Ada Calhoun. This story features the case of Jenessa Moman, a loving and capable mother who was treated as a child abuser by child protective services (CPS) because she was receiving medication-assisted treatment that is recommended by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the World Health Organization, the National Institutes of Health, and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

NAPW's Soros Justice Fellow, Kylee Sunderlin explained "There is such stigma that it's hard to separate what's fueled by CPS thinking there really is harm and what's just a gross misunderstanding of what medication-assisted treatment is." The story reports that National Advocates for Pregnant Women became involved in Moman's case in December 2013, and on January 27th, the charges were dropped.

This week, The American Prospect also ran an excellent long-form article entitled, "The New Moral Panic Over Drug-Dependent Babies" by Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux. It describes the "hyped-up crack-baby crisis" of the 1980s and 90s and analogizes it to current fears about neonatal abstinence syndrome. It accurately describes these fears as "overblown" and leading to dangerous and counterproductive laws like the one just enacted in Tennessee. The story features the fact that poverty is a far greater risk to children than their mother's drug use, that punitive approaches ignore the advice of medical professionals, and the story highlights a case in which a woman who sought help was punished for doing so.

NAPW Staff Attorney, Farah Diaz-Tello, and Soros Justice Fellow, Kylee Sunderlin, are quoted in this article, which gives the last word to NAPW ally, Professor Susan Boyd. The article says "Like the 'crack baby epidemic,' this narrative puts mothers in opposition to their children, rather than seeing them both as vulnerable people, in need of care. 'The fetus is part of the mother,' Susan Boyd says. 'What's good for her is good for her baby. I think sometimes we forget that.'"

Finally, we bring to your attention an excellent commentary by Deborah P. Small, the founder and Executive Director of Break the Chains: Communities of Color & the "war on drugs." This piece makes powerful connections between "fetal personhood" laws (including Tennessee's Pregnancy Criminalization Law), and the private, for-profit prison industry. In her post, "Political Puppeteers: Policing Pregnancy for Profit, Promoting Personhood for Power," Small highlights NAPW's research, and wonders whether there is any connection between Tennessee's new legislation that makes pregnant women subject to criminal punishment and the fact that the nation's largest private prison company - Correctional Corporation of America (CCA) - has its corporate headquarters in Tennessee.

NAPW, with the help of a newly energized Fourth Estate, hopes to ensure that all parents are valued, and that policies addressing pregnant women and families are based on love, respect, and #ScienceNotStigma.

May 2, 2014

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

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

Despite the extraordinary efforts of an amazing coalition, Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam signed SB 1391 into law on Tuesday, April 29, 2014. As a result, Tennessee has become the first state to ignore the warnings of medical and public health experts and pass a law criminalizing adverse pregnancy outcomes, making those who become pregnant subject to separate and unequal laws.

We allowed ourselves to hope that the Governor would do the right thing, but instead the bill will go into effect this July.

Now National Advocates for Pregnant Women (NAPW) needs your support to continue the fight - to help challenge this law, to challenge the arrests that have already happened and will continue to happen and to explain why this law should be repealed and why pregnant women and parents should be valued, not arrested.

We also need your support to build on the many remarkable and positive things that have come out of this effort. For example, a coalition led by reproductive justice organizations, including NAPW, SisterReach, Healthy and Free Tennessee, Young Women United, SisterSong, with the powerful support of RH Reality Check, exposed the appalling harm this law will do. This coalition rallied unprecedented local, national, and international opposition to the use of criminal laws to address pregnancy outcomes and drug use by pregnant women.

While The New York Times has run numerous stories over the last 25 years covering the arrests of pregnant women, our efforts this time led to an editorial against the Criminalization of Expectant Mothers.

More than 11,000 people signed a petition asking the Governor to veto the law. When the petition was hand-delivered to the Governor by local coalition members, it made the front page of The Tennessean.

Numerous individuals and organizations wrote letters, made phone calls, tweeted, and emailed to bring the dangers of this law to public attention. Groups, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, International Doctors for Healthier Drug Policy, and National Perinatal Association, submitted letters asking Governor Haslam to protect the health of Tennessee families by vetoing the bill. NAPW sent its own letter and joined more than 25 reproductive rights, health, and justice organizations in communicating our opposition to the law and insisting that all families have access to the health care they need. Drug policy reform groups, including Law Enforcement Against Prohibition joined reproductive rights groups in speaking out against this law.

Over the past few years, NAPW has shared our insights with the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP). So we were particularly pleased when acting director of ONDCP Michael Botticelli visited Vanderbilt's Children's Hospital, 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."

Although this law has a built-in 2016 expiration date, we feel that this is too long for Tennessee families to be subjected to a counterproductive, unconstitutional, and dehumanizing law. NAPW stands with Tennessee; we will continue to fight.

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