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December 23, 2014

Pregnancy Is Not a Crime - Support NAPW!

Dear Friends and Allies,

National Advocates for Pregnant Women (NAPW) believes that at no point in pregnancy should women lose their civil or human rights.

Fortunately, we were able to get this message out to millions of people this year through a New York Times op-ed, "Pregnant, and No Civil Rights." Over the weekend of its publication, the op-ed was the #1 most emailed, tweeted, and Facebook 'shared' piece in The New York Times. A week later, our commentary continued to be the most tweeted and Facebook 'shared' piece of the week.

Thank you! With your support, NAPW has not only been able to reach new audiences and broaden the base of those who understand that anti-abortion measures hurt all pregnant women, we have also been able to achieve numerous victories. To share but a few:

In Colorado and North Dakota, NAPW helped defeat ballot measures that would have established separate rights for fertilized eggs, embryos, and fetuses. Through commentaries, videos, billboards, fact sheets, local meetings, and numerous interviews with the media, NAPW worked with state-based advocates to broaden the base of opposition to these measures by exposing how they would provide the authority for sending pregnant women and new mothers to jail and depriving them of their personhood.

In Oklahoma, NAPW once again played a vital role in supporting the Take Root: Red State Perspectives on Reproductive Justice conference. In its fourth year, 400 people (from more than 28 states) attended, doubling last year's participation. This conference provides a vital, ongoing mechanism for building and sustaining a movement for Reproductive Justice in parts of this country that for too long have been ignored as sources of progressive activism and organizing.

In Mississippi, through our collaborative work with local counsel and scores of national and international drug policy reform, health, and human rights organizations, NAPW achieved an important victory. After eight years of our persistent legal advocacy, a Mississippi judge finally dismissed the murder charge against Rennie Gibbs, an African-American teenager charged with "depraved heart" murder after experiencing a stillbirth at 36 weeks of pregnancy.

In Texas, we helped Jessica DeSamito, a pregnant Navy veteran, win her freedom from detention in a county jail. County officials took her into custody for an alleged probation violation despite the fact that doing so would prevent her from receiving the methadone treatment she had been prescribed. This deprivation of medication-assisted treatment could have caused her to lose the pregnancy. In addition to helping her with her legal case, NAPW ignited a fire storm of public outrage, including a nationwide social media campaign (#JusticeForJessica) that generated a petition with over 6,000 signatures, scores of calls to the county jail, and a flood of media attention, including this Salon piece, "Rick Perry's 'pro-life' hypocrisy: How Texas puts pregnant women at risk." As a result of NAPW's efforts, Ms. DeSamito was released from jail within seven days and was able to receive the healthcare she needed.

In New York, we helped ensure that traveling across state lines while pregnant is not treated as a form of kidnapping.

Thank you for helping us get this far. But we have a long way to go. We need your support to continue our work.

Our cases have been compared to Margaret Atwood's dystopian work of fiction, The Handmaid's Tale. Unfortunately, our cases are all too real.

In Wisconsin, yet another pregnant woman has been subjected to arrest, humiliation, and punishment for speaking honestly to her doctors and seeking help for her health problems. In this case, the state has already ruled that a woman who has yet to give birth is an abusive parent. The pregnant woman - who had sought medical help for serious health problems and the fact that she was self-medicating to address these problems - was reported to state authorities. Twice court hearings were held where her fetus had a lawyer but she did not. The state's response included incarcerating her for 17 days, where she received no prenatal care, spent time in solitary confinement, and was threatened with being shot with a Taser. NAPW is fighting this shocking abuse of state power.

In Alabama, more than 130 women have been arrested under an expansive judicial interpretation of the state's chemical endangerment of a child law. NAPW is moving on multiple fronts to challenge these arrests, and to help key investigative journalists in their efforts to unmask the politics behind this decision, including how it may be used to dismantle Roe v. Wade. As you read these words, a woman who took one Valium while pregnant, gave birth to a healthy child, and was found to be a good and responsible mother awaits trial on the felony charge of "chemical endangerment of a child." This mother could face up to 10 years in prison.

In New York, a woman was forced to have cesarean surgery. A physician wrote in her medical records: "The woman has decisional capacity. I have decided to override her refusal to have a c-section." And in Florida, a woman at 38 weeks of pregnancy received a letter from her hospital's chief financial officer threatening to force her to have cesarean surgery and to report her to child welfare authorities if she sought to deliver at that hospital and insisted on having a trial of labor.

Voters in Tennessee passed Measure 1, a state constitutional amendment that appeared, on its face, to narrowly focus on abortion. We believe that Tennessee's Amendment 1 is better understood as a referendum on the personhood of pregnant women. This year, Tennessee also became the first state to pass a law explicitly designed to permit the arrest of women in relationship to their own pregnancies. The arrests have already begun and NAPW is already bringing attention to the cruel and counterproductive effects of this law. On top of this, the US Attorney in Tennessee has argued that if a woman commits a federal crime while pregnant, the government should be able to increase the severity of her punishment. NAPW is fighting these attacks on pregnant women.

NAPW is working on all of these cases and issues, and we are using them to show that the principles used to justify limiting abortion are the same ones used to judge, punish, and control all pregnant women.

With your help, we can turn handmaids' tales into reproductive justice victories.

The outcome of the votes in Colorado, North Dakota, and Tennessee confirm NAPW's insights and the wisdom of our long-term strategies. When we can make clear that a measure will hurt all pregnant women, we can win - and keep those measures from becoming the law. When attacks on abortion are treated only as attacks on that one procedure and not the status of all women, we will continue to lose ground.

We need your help to make sure that women in every state are protected from arrests, prosecutions, forced medical interventions, and laws that would not only deprive pregnant women of the right to choose abortion, but also deprive them of their civil and human rights.

Please support NAPW generously so that we can continue to fight for the dignity, humanity, and personhood of all pregnant people.

With best wishes for the holiday season,

December 22, 2014

Victory in NJ - Methadone Treatment for Pregnant Women is Health Care, Not Harm

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Today, the New Jersey Supreme Court announced its unanimous ruling in New Jersey Division of Child Protection & Permanency v. Y.N. This decision rejects a lower court finding that a mother may be charged with civil child abuse and neglect because her newborn exhibited the transitory and treatable side effects of methadone treatment that the woman received during pregnancy.

At the center of the case is a woman, identified by the court as Y.N., who had been struggling with a dependency on opioid painkillers. When she found out she was pregnant, she followed medical advice and obtained care that included methadone treatment. She gave birth to a healthy baby who was successfully treated for symptoms of neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS), which is a group of side effects that may result from methadone treatment and other medications. As a result of the NAS diagnosis, Y.N. was reported to the Division of Child Protection and Permanency (DCPP, formerly the Division of Youth and Family Services), and was judged to have abused her child because she agreed with her physician's recommendation and followed the prescribed course of methadone treatment while pregnant.

National Advocates for Pregnant Women with 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. Our amicus brief is referred to in the decision as the amicus brief on behalf of "Experts in Maternal and Fetal Health, Public Health, and Drug Treatment." Its influence is notable throughout the decision with the Court paying special attention to the research we presented demonstrating that threats of child abuse actions will discourage pregnant women from seeking addiction treatment.

While the decision squarely reverses the lower court's determination that NAS was a sufficient basis for a finding of abuse or neglect, the Court did not foreclose the use of child welfare laws to evaluate and judge pregnant women. As a result, the court has remanded (sent back down to the lower court) to see if there is other evidence that would support an abuse or neglect finding, such as "the timeliness." This would permit the lower court to consider, for example, the duration and timing of Y.N's drug treatment.

This means that the fight to ensure health, rights, and justice for pregnant women in New Jersey is far from over. Thank you to all of the amici who lent their expertise to this effort (a full list of amici is available here), and who will no doubt be needed again soon.

Thank you all for supporting NAPW and making our work on behalf of pregnant women and their families possible.

PRESS RELEASE: Health and Human Rights Victory in New Jersey Division of Child Protection & Permanency v. Y.N.

PRESS RELEASE FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
December 22, 2014

Contact: Lynn Paltrow, (212) 255-9252, lmp@advocatesforpregnantwomen.org

Health and Human Rights Victory in New Jersey Division of Child Protection & Permanency v. Y.N.
Methadone Treatment for Pregnant Women is Health Care, Not Harm

Trenton, New Jersey: Today, the New Jersey Supreme Court announced its unanimous ruling in New Jersey Division of Child Protection & Permanency v. Y.N. This decision rejects a lower court finding that a mother may be charged with civil child abuse and neglect because her newborn exhibited the transitory and treatable side effects of methadone treatment that the woman received during pregnancy.

At the center of the case is a woman, identified by the court as Y.N., who had been struggling with a dependency on opioid painkillers. When she found out she was pregnant, she followed medical advice and obtained care that included methadone treatment. She gave birth to a healthy baby who was successfully treated for symptoms of neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS), which is a group of side effects that may result from methadone treatment and other medications. As a result of the NAS diagnosis, Y.N. was reported to the Division of Child Protection and Permanency (DCPP, formerly the Division of Youth and Family Services), and was judged to have abused her child because she agreed with her physician's recommendation and followed the prescribed course of methadone treatment while pregnant.

National Advocates for Pregnant Women with 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. This amicus brief is referred to in the decision as the amicus brief on behalf of "Experts in Maternal and Fetal Health, Public Health, and Drug Treatment."

Lynn Paltrow, Executive Director of National Advocates for Pregnant Women and co-counsel for amici said, "This is an important victory, making clear that methadone treatment for pregnant women is health care, not harm."

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December 18, 2014

PRESS RELEASE: Advocates for Maternal & Fetal Health, Reproductive Justice, File Brief Urging Court to Dismiss Feticide Charge Against Indiana Woman

PRESS RELEASE FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
December 17, 2014

Contacts: Kathrine Jack JD, (317) 477-2300, kathrinejack@gmail.com
Sara Ainsworth JD, (212) 255-9252, sla@advocatesforpregnantwomen.org

(South Bend, IN) On Friday, December 19th, an Indiana trial court will hold a hearing on criminal charges brought against Purvi Patel, an Indiana woman. National Advocates for Pregnant Women (NAPW), along with numerous maternal health and bioethics experts and reproductive justice organizations, filed an amicus curiae (friend of the court) brief urging the St. Joseph County Superior Court to dismiss the feticide charge against Purvi Patel. At the hearing Friday, the trial court is expected to decide whether it will consider that brief.

Prosecutors have charged Ms. Patel with two contradictory charges. They claim that she gave birth to a newborn and then neglected the infant charging Ms. Patel with “neglect of a dependent.” Simultaneously, they claim that she intentionally terminated her pregnancy, charging her with the crime of “feticide.” Both crimes are felonies that are punishable by between six and 20 years in prison.

None of the individuals or groups that joined this brief object to the “neglect of a dependent” charge if, in fact, a baby was born alive and was neglected. But as the brief explains, it does not appear from the facts available that this is what this case is about. Rather, the state seeks to use its feticide law to prosecute a woman who either (from the state’s account) self-induced an abortion or (from her accounts reported in the press) suffered a stillbirth.

Indiana’s feticide law was passed with the promise that it would protect pregnant women. This case raises the important question of whether the real purpose of a feticide law is to jail women who have abortions.

Kathrine Jack, counsel for NAPW, the Indiana Religious Coalition for Reproductive Justice (IRCRC), and other groups represented in this brief, said that “Indiana prosecutors should not use the feticide law, intended to protect pregnant women, to put women who have abortions in jail.”

Rev. Marie Siroky of IRCRC emphasizes, "As people of faith we are called to respond when the laws of the State are applied unjustly. To apply feticide and criminal charges to women who are pregnant, without thorough evaluation of the situation, does not serve in the interest of justice, but intimidates women with incarceration and prevents them from seeking medical care when a pregnancy may have a less-than-optimal result. Instead of compassion, they receive criminal charges.”

“Countries where abortion is criminal have paid a heavy price in terms of maternal, infant, and child health and well-being,” explains Sara Ainsworth, Director of Legal Advocacy at NAPW. “Indiana should not join these countries where young pregnant girls are committing suicide at alarming rates; pregnant women are avoiding medical care for fear that any problem in pregnancy will be reported to law enforcement; and mothers are not only going to jail for having abortions, but also for suffering miscarriages and stillbirths.”

Activists and advocates across the country are coming together to oppose this prosecution by signing a petition that demands the St. Joseph County Prosecutor dismiss the charge of “feticide” against Purvi Patel. The brief with a full list of amici is available here.

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December 16, 2014

PRESS RELEASE: Pregnant Woman Files Civil Rights Lawsuit Against State of Wisconsin Challenging Wisconsin Law That Permits Jailing Pregnant Women Who Seek Medical Help

PRESS RELEASE
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

December 16, 2014

Contacts: Sara Ainsworth, NAPW, (212) 255-9252, sla@advocatesforpregnantwomen.org
Freya Bowen, Perkins Coie LLP, (608) 663-7495, FBowen@perkinscoie.com

(Madison, WI) National Advocates for Pregnant Women (NAPW), the Carr Center for Reproductive Justice at New York University School of Law, and the Perkins Coie law firm in Madison, Wisconsin filed a civil rights lawsuit in federal court on behalf of Tamara Loertscher against the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families and the Wisconsin Attorney General. The suit challenges a Wisconsin law that allows the state to seize control of women, detain them in jail or locked facilities, and subject them to numerous other deprivations of their civil rights if they are pregnant and use – or even admit to past use of – alcohol or a controlled substance.

Ms. Loertscher, the plaintiff in the lawsuit, is a Wisconsin woman who had no health insurance and could not afford treatment for her severe hypothyroidism. When she realized she might be pregnant, she went to a hospital with the hope that health care professionals could treat her hypothyroidism and provide her with alternatives to the controlled substances she used for a short time to self-medicate for the depression and lethargy associated with this serious medical problem. But hospital staff focused on her past drug use and disclosed Ms. Loertscher’s confidential medical information to state authorities, under the Wisconsin law challenged in this action. As a result, court hearings about her life, health, and freedom were held at which a lawyer was assigned to represent her 14-week fetus, but she had no legal representation. A court then issued an order detaining her and another sending her to jail, where she was denied prenatal care and held for a time in solitary confinement – all in the name of protecting her “unborn child.” This same law was used last year to detain another pregnant woman, Alicia Beltran.

As the lawsuit explains, this law, which gives the state power over pregnant women from the moment they become pregnant, endangers maternal, fetal, and child health and violates pregnant women’s liberty, medical privacy and decision-making, and other constitutional rights.

Ms. Loertscher said, “I was trying to do the right thing to take care of my pregnancy. I was really sick when I went to get help, but I feel like asking for help just made everything worse.”

In addition to jailing her, a Wisconsin child welfare agency also made a finding that while still pregnant Ms. Loertscher had committed “unborn child abuse.” If upheld, this finding would prevent Ms. Loertscher from obtaining employment in her field as a nurse’s aide or pursuing any other work in health care, education, or childcare.

Sara Ainsworth, Director of Legal Advocacy at NAPW, said, “Ms. Loertscher’s experience reflects how profoundly this Wisconsin law disrespects pregnant women.” Ms. Ainsworth added, “This law is bad for pregnant women and bad for babies, and it demonstrates why there should be no role for coercive, punitive state action in the provision of prenatal health care.”

For more information, a recording of a December 11th, 2014 media teleconference about the case with Ms. Loertscher, Ms. Ainsworth, and Dr. Mishka Terplan is available here.

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December 9, 2014

NAPW & Experts Challenge 1st Fed Case That Used Pregnancy to Increase Sentence

PRESS RELEASE
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE, December 9, 2014

Contact: Kylee Sunderlin
(212) 255-9252
kjs@advocatesforpregnantwomen.org

100 LEADING EXPERTS AND ORGANIZATIONS CHALLENGE FEDERAL COURT DECISION MAKING PREGNANCY THE BASIS FOR INCREASING A FEDERAL PRISON SENTENCE

Friend of Court Brief Filed in Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals Challenges as Unconstitutional and Dangerous to Maternal, Fetal, and Child Health Tennessee District Court Decision to Add Six Years to Lacey Weld’s Sentence

Yesterday, National Advocates for Pregnant Women (NAPW) and 99 other organizations and experts filed an amicus curiae (friend of the court) brief in the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in support of Ms. Lacey Weld. Ms. Weld is appealing the decision of a Tennessee federal court to add six years to her prison sentence because she was pregnant at the time she committed a federal offense.

Ms. Weld pled guilty to the crime of conspiracy to manufacture methamphetamine and cooperated with the Department of Justice in its prosecution of others involved in this manufacturing operation. Following her plea, however, federal prosecutors argued that by struggling with addiction and by being in a “volatile” environment with dangerous “fumes” while pregnant, Ms. Weld put her “unborn child” at risk and deserved more punishment than the men who also participated in the manufacturing operation. The federal district court in Tennessee agreed and, in an unprecedented decision, interpreted the Federal Sentencing Guidelines that allow increased penalties for creating “a substantial risk of harm to the life of a minor” to permit increased penalties for women who are pregnant while committing a federal crime.

Amici include medical and public health experts and organizations, reproductive justice and women’s rights, criminal justice reform, drug policy reform, and civil rights and civil liberties organizations. (A full list of amici is available here). This extraordinary group of doctors, researchers, and organizations across diverse fields of expertise all agree that subjecting women to harsher and unequal sentences because of pregnancy is not permitted by the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, is profoundly discriminatory, violates multiple constitutional guarantees, and if allowed to stand, would establish precedent that undermines maternal, fetal, and child health. Amici also challenge the grossly inaccurate medical claims regarding pregnant women and drug use that apparently influenced the court’s decision to increase Ms. Weld’s sentence.

“The sentence enhancement ordered in this case reinstates the discredited and impermissible reasoning that once justified virtually every kind of discrimination against women,” said Kylee Sunderlin, Soros Justice Fellow at NAPW and counsel for amici. Sunderlin explained, “The arguments for the enhanced penalty in this case are based on gender stereotypes, stigma, and medical misinformation.”

Earlier this year, NAPW, along with 48 reproductive justice, drug policy reform, women’s rights, and civil liberties organizations sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder calling on the U.S. Department of Justice to renounce enhanced criminal penalties for women on the basis of pregnancy.

Ms. Weld is represented by John E. Eldridge of Knoxville, Tennessee.

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