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June 23, 2015

MEDIA STATEMENT: ACOG Opinion on Marijuana Use During Pregnancy, NAPW & FLCA Respond

MEDIA STATEMENT
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

June 22, 2015

Contact: Lynn Paltrow, NAPW (212) 255-9252
info@advocatesforpregnantwomen.org
Sara Arnold, media@flcalliance.org

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The American College of Obstetrician and Gynecologists (ACOG) Issues Committee Opinion on Marijuana Use During Pregnancy


National Advocates for Pregnant Women (NAPW) & Family Law & Cannabis Alliance (FLCA) Call for Non-Punitive Responses to Pregnant Women Who Use Marijuana


On June 22, 2015, ACOG released Committee Opinion 637, Marijuana Use During Pregnancy and Lactation recommending that health care providers encourage women who are pregnant or contemplating pregnancy to avoid marijuana use "[b]ecause the effects of marijuana may be as serious as those of cigarette smoking or alcohol consumption." [emphasis added]

For decades, medical health professionals have used a variety of medical and public health techniques, including harm reduction approaches, to address the issue of cigarette smoking and alcohol use by pregnant women. The Committee Opinion acknowledges that "there are limitations on the data on marijuana," that many of the studies cited are based only on animal models (not humans), and that the effects of marijuana use have not been shown to be as serious as cigarette and alcohol consumption. Nevertheless, women and mothers in the U.S. who have used marijuana while pregnant are being subject to highly punitive, gender discriminatory criminal and civil penalties.

While possessing marijuana (i.e., having some amount of the drug in one's pocket, car, or home) remains criminalized in many states, use, dependence, and addiction are not criminalized by the federal government or by most states. Women who use marijuana, become pregnant, and continue those pregnancies to term, however, may be arrested for child endangerment in South Carolina and for chemical endangerment of a child in Alabama. Women in Wisconsin can be locked up for marijuana use following an initial hearing at which the fertilized egg, embryo, or fetus has a right to counsel, but not the pregnant woman. With or without laws authorizing arrests of women who become pregnant and use marijuana, women in numerous states have been arrested.

With or without statutory authority, in most states, women who become pregnant and use marijuana are also being reported to civil child welfare authorities as child abusers, subject to highly intrusive, stressful, and often hostile investigations. Many of them face allegations of abuse or neglect and are listed on the state's central child abuse and neglect registry, which carries lifelong collateral consequences affecting their ability to obtain employment and support their families. Others face temporary separation from their child or lose custody entirely. These state interventions into families' lives are highly discretionary and overwhelmingly target low-income mothers and women of color.

NAPW and FLCA join this Committee Opinion in urging that the same non-punitive responses to cigarette smoking and alcohol use be applied to pregnant women who use marijuana. As the Opinion states: Seeking obstetric-gynecologic care should not expose a woman to criminal or civil penalties for marijuana use, such as incarceration, involuntary commitment, loss of custody of her children, or loss of housing . . . Drug enforcement policies that deter women from seeking prenatal care are contrary to the welfare of the mother and fetus.

We also call on the government to support unbiased research regarding marijuana use during pregnancy, considering potential benefits as well as potential harms from its use. See e.g. Rachel E. Westfall et al, Survey of medicinal cannabis use among childbearing women: Patterns of its use in pregnancy and retroactive self-assessment of its efficacy against 'morning sickness,' Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice (2006) 12, 27-33; Melanie C. Dreher, et al., "Prenatal Marijuana Exposure and Neonatal Outcomes in Jamaica: An Ethnographic Study," 93:2 Pediatrics 254 (1994).

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June 10, 2015

NAPW STATEMENT: NAPW Applauds Georgia Prosecutors for Dropping Murder Charge Against Kenlissia Jones; Calls on Prosecutors to Drop All Charges

National Advocates for Pregnant Women (NAPW) applauds Dougherty County Prosecutor Gregory W. Edwards' conclusion that there is no legal authority for charging a pregnant woman with the crime of murder for having terminated her own pregnancy. As the prosecutor explained in this detailed legal analysis released today, no Georgia law permits prosecution of women for murder or related criminal charges based on pregnancy or the outcome of their pregnancies.

Kenlissia Jones, however, should never have been arrested in the first place. As a result of the state's actions, Ms. Jones had to endure the trauma of arrest, imprisonment, and the profound violation of her rights to physical liberty as well as medical and personal privacy. A person's health decisions during pregnancy -- including the decision to end a pregnancy -- should never be the subject of criminal investigation, arrest, prosecution, or public disclosure of medical information without consent. It is especially troubling to see a young black mother of a toddler charged with a crime that carries the death penalty.

According to Georgia prosecutors, Ms. Jones was arrested and held without bond, facing a possible charge of "malice murder," based on the claim that she used misoprostol to terminate her pregnancy. Now that she has been released and the murder charge has been dropped, prosecutors indicate that she still faces a misdemeanor charge of "possession of a dangerous drug" for having allegedly possessed misoprostol. This charge should be dropped as well.

According to the World Health Organization and medical research, misoprostol is not a "dangerous" drug. It is used safely around the world for a wide variety of obstetric and gynecological health care needs, including treatment of postpartum hemorrhage and safe termination of pregnancy. Moreover, public health principles and human rights demand that all women be able to speak confidentially to health care providers about the use of any drug during pregnancy, without fear of arrest and prosecution.

The prosecutor also stated that his office was investigating other possible charges to file against Ms. Jones. But major medical and public health organizations in the U.S., such as the American College of Obstetricians & Gynecologists, oppose threatening women with arrest in relationship to their pregnancies because it deters women from seeking help and, as a result, undermines maternal, fetal, and child health.

Because public health, fairness to pregnant women, and fundamental principles of human rights and dignity prohibit the use of state power to arrest and punish women for being pregnant and for the outcomes of their pregnancies, NAPW calls on Mr. Edwards to drop all charges against Ms. Jones.

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National Advocates for Pregnant Women is a non-profit legal advocacy organization dedicated to protecting the health, rights, and dignity of all pregnant and parenting women. Since its founding in 2001, NAPW has participated in cases across the country in which pregnant women have been criminally charged based on their pregnancies or outcome of their pregnancies. NAPW's 2013 study, published in the Journal of Health Politics, Policy, and Law, documented 413 such cases from 1973 to 2005, and demonstrates that laws that create a separate legal status for fetuses are used to punish pregnant women.

June 9, 2015

NAPW STATEMENT: NAPW Decries Arrest of Georgia Woman as "Murderer" for Having an Abortion

Statement of National Advocates for Pregnant Women Opposing Arrest of Georgia Woman as Murderer for Home Abortion Attempt

According to Georgia prosecutors, 23-year-old Kenlissia Jones has been arrested and is being held without bond, facing a possible charge of "malice murder," based on the claim that she used misoprostol, a medication with the brand name Cytotec, to terminate her own pregnancy.

There are no criminal statutes in Georgia that permit punishment of women based on pregnancy or pregnancy outcomes -- and the constitution, as well as human rights principles, prohibit such punitive laws directed to pregnant women.

The arrest of Ms. Jones, the arrest of Anne Bynum in Arkansas for "concealing a birth" and "abuse of a corpse" on the basis that she took medication at home to terminate her pregnancy, and the conviction of Purvi Patel in Indiana, confirm that anti-abortion laws and legal strategies will be used to punish the women who have or attempt to have abortions, or who have miscarriages and stillbirths.

We call on leading anti-abortion organizations, who have publicly and repeatedly said that they oppose punishing women for having abortions, to stand with Kenlissia Jones and against the growing use of criminal laws to punish women for abortions or pregnancy outcomes.

People who seek medical attention for any aspect of pregnancy -- including prenatal care, labor and delivery, miscarriage, stillbirth, or abortion -- should not fear arrest. There is no role for police or prosecutors in reproductive health. Public health, fairness to pregnant women, and fundamental principles of human rights and dignity prohibit the use of state power to arrest and punish women for being pregnant and for the outcomes of their pregnancies.

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National Advocates for Pregnant Women is a non-profit legal advocacy organization dedicated to protecting the health, rights, and dignity of all pregnant and parenting women. Since its founding in 2001, NAPW has participated in cases across the country in which pregnant women have been criminally charged based on their pregnancies or outcome of their pregnancies. NAPW's 2013 study, published in the Journal of Health Politics, Policy, and Law, documented 413 such cases from 1973 to 2005, and demonstrates that laws that create a separate legal status for fetuses are used to punish pregnant women.

June 1, 2015

A Major Victory for Pregnant Women

National Advocates for Pregnant Women was the first national organization to offer support to Jennie McCormack, an Idaho woman who was arrested for having an abortion. We are thrilled to report an important victory in Ms. McCormack's case. Last week, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its second opinion in McCormack v. Herzog, holding that it is unconstitutional to prosecute women for having abortions, and striking down several parts of Idaho's laws that limit women's rights and access to abortion.

In 2012, Ms. McCormack, a mother of three, was arrested for ending her own pregnancy. Living in southeastern Idaho, hundreds of miles away from the nearest abortion provider, Ms. McCormack had safely ended her pregnancy at home with medication obtained over the internet. NAPW, joined by Legal Voice, the Center for Reproductive Rights, and Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest, and represented by Seattle attorneys Katie O'Sullivan and Katie Galipeau of Perkins Coie, filed amicus (friend of the court) briefs in support of Ms. McCormack. The briefs challenged Idaho's authority to punish a woman for having an abortion.

In its opinion, the Ninth Circuit affirmed that Idaho may not punish women for obtaining abortions; affirmed that Ms. McCormack retained her right to challenge Idaho's laws that could be used to punish her; and held that doctors with the ability to provide abortion services have standing to challenge restrictive abortion laws even if they have not previously provided abortion care. The decision also struck down several provisions of Idaho's laws denying pregnant women their right to equality and health care: a provision that prohibited women from getting abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy; one that prohibited women who need an abortion in the second trimester from doing so anywhere except in a hospital; and another that required "proper" and "satisfactory" (terms that were undefined) equipment and staff for first trimester abortions.

This decision is especially significant for its sweeping rejection of Idaho's claim that it has a right to punish women who have abortions.

Anti-abortion organizations that support criminal abortion laws have consistently claimed that they are only seeking to protect women, not punish them. What happened to Ms. McCormack and other women, including Purvi Patel, reveal that such laws are already being used to punish women just as they are in countries like El Salvador, where abortion is completely illegal. The Ninth Circuit's decision is an important step to winning full recognition of women's equality, humanity, and dignity.

Please support NAPW so that we can defend this decision and ensure justice for all people with the capacity for pregnancy.

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