Arresting Developments (and some Victories) for Pregnant Women in the US
As if the recent Supreme Court decisions were not enough, the last few weeks have been a frightening reminder that it is not just women's rights to abortion and contraception that are at stake, but also their right to be free from arrests, prosecutions, and cruel and inhumane punishment.
Last week, the first woman was arrested under Tennessee's new law that makes the crime of fetal assault applicable to pregnant women in relationship to the eggs, embryos, and fetuses they carry. As NAPW and its coalition allies have explained, the first arrest proved that the law is not limited to women who "illegally use narcotics," is not limited to situations in which a newborn is injured, and is not about increasing access to treatment. NAPW is exposing the injustice of this new law, and has already reached out to help in her defense. We are also ready to challenge a federal court ruling in Tennessee if, as we fear, a judge sentences a woman to significantly more time in prison because she was pregnant at the time she committed the crime.
And state officials in Texas made clear that pregnant women who are incarcerated will be deprived of critical medical care. In early July, Jessica DeSamito, who was 24 weeks pregnant and receiving methadone treatment, contacted NAPW for help. She was on parole and terrified that it would be revoked because she had committed the technical violation of testing positive for opioids during the time she was struggling to gain entry to a methadone treatment program. She knew that if her parole were revoked, she would be jailed and denied the treatment necessary for her health and for the health of her pregnancy. Despite NAPW's efforts, Ms. DeSamito was in fact jailed and cruelly denied medical care. Neither Ms. DeSamito nor NAPW gave up. With the invaluable help of local counsel Alicia Perez, exceptional media coverage, such as "Texas Jailers Deny Pregnant Navy Vet Medication Needed to Continue Her Pregnancy" and "Rick Perry's 'pro-life' hypocrisy: How Texas puts pregnant women at risk," and the public outcry that resulted, Ms. DeSamito is now out of jail and receiving the health care she needs.
But it is not only cases involving drugs where pregnant women are being targeted for arrest: women have also been arrested for ending a pregnancy. On July 18, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals will hear oral argument in a case brought by Jennie McCormack, an Idaho mother of three who was arrested and charged with having an illegal abortion after she terminated a pregnancy using medication she obtained online.
This Feminist Wire commentary: "Feminism and the Prison Industrial Complex: Why 'Add Incarceration And Stir' Doesn't Cut It" by NAPW's Board President, Jeanne Flavin, and NAPW Research & Program Associate, Laura Huss, makes clear how these seemingly diverse cases all come together and that intersectional work is needed to ensure Reproductive Justice for all. NAPW is committed to doing that work. For example, we are looking forward to participating in the Standing Our Ground: Raising Our Voices Against Reproductive Oppression and Violence Against Women (#StandingOurGround) Reproductive Justice weekend.
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