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August 11, 2015

NAPW: Movement in NY Case, Win in NJ & TN Conference Registration Open!

NAPW files amicus brief in N.Y. case

On July 24, NAPW filed an amicus curiae ("friend of the court") brief supporting Jennifer Jorgensen's appeal to New York's court of last resort in the case New York v. Jorgensen. National Advocates for Pregnant Women represents more than 30 organizations and individuals in the brief, including the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

In 2008, Ms. Jorgensen was involved in a car accident in which she was injured and two other people were killed. Then 8 months pregnant, she had a premature baby by emergency cesarean surgery, and the baby died a few days later. A year after the accident, she was charged with reckless driving and three counts of manslaughter -- two for the occupants of the other vehicle and one for the baby she lost. The prosecutor's case largely relied on painting Ms. Jorgensen as a bad mother who failed to protect her baby in various ways. Eventually, Ms. Jorgensen was convicted of second-degree manslaughter in reference to her child and faces up to nine years in prison unless she is vindicated by the Court of Appeals.

Authored by Senior Staff Attorney Farah Diaz-Tello, NAPW's brief argued several key points, including that the New York State law does not authorize prosecutions against pregnant women who cannot guarantee a healthy birth outcome; that interpreting the law in this way is unconstitutional, as it violates the rights to equal protection and privacy; and that prosecuting women for pregnancy loss can harm maternal health.

NAPW has requested an opportunity to appear at oral argument, currently scheduled for Sept. 8 in Albany, New York.

Victory in New Jersey

There is good news in the continuing saga of a New Jersey mother who was alleged to have abused and neglected her newborn due to her receipt of prescribed methadone treatment. The mother, identified in court documents as Y.N., argued her case in September 2014 before the New Jersey Supreme Court, represented by Clara Licata of the New Jersey Public Defender's Office of Parental Representation. NAPW submitted an amicus curiae brief on behalf of 76 organizations and experts, authored by Lynn Paltrow, Staff Attorney Kylee Sunderlin and Lawrence Lustberg of Gibbons, PC, explaining the significant public health ramifications of deterring pregnant women from receiving medication-assisted treatment.

The state's highest court ruled that simply receiving methadone treatment was insufficient to trigger a child welfare report, but sent Y.N.'s case back to the Appellate Division to determine whether a delay in enrolling in treatment could be treated as a form of child neglect. The Appellate Division failed to find sufficient evidence to support a neglect charge, and attempted to send the case to the trial court for a retrial, but the Supreme Court intervened. On July 31, the New Jersey Supreme Court put an end to the case, which has hung over Y.N. for four years, by declaring that "the judgment of the trial court finding of abuse and neglect is vacated."

NAPW in the news

NAPW Director Lynn Paltrow was one of two speakers for a July webinar about the lack of diversity among the country's prosecutors; according to a report released by the Women's Donor Network, about 95 percent of the more than 2,400 elected state prosecutors are white, only 17 percent are women and more than 60 percent of states have no black prosecutors. Lynn's webinar comments were featured in a widely circulated article at The Root, "Report finds that nearly all of America's prosecutors are white."

NAPW also made an appearance in Retro Report's updated video on the "crack baby" image of the 1980s, "From crack babies to Oxytots: Lessons not learned." Lynn's commentary provided a vital link that connected the crack baby panic of previous decades to the contemporary climate regarding opioid use among pregnant women.

Writer Jessica Valenti also used NAPW expertise in her important July 1 Alternet piece, "The war on drugs reaches into the womb -- and threatens abortion rights."

Lynn was also quoted in this story for Georgia NPR station WABE about a study that researched the impact of a policy change that shortened the period during which women could have abortions in the Southern state.

NAPW Legal Director Sara Ainsworth was quoted in two stories related to the case of Alabama's "Jane Doe," who was jailed while pregnant, requested an abortion and whom attorneys attempted to deprive of her parental rights to her fetus: ProPublica's "Alabama's Meth Lab Law, Abortion Rights and the Strange Case of Jane Doe" by investigative journalist Nina Martin and another piece, "Judge to dismiss inmate abortion case, ProPublica weighs in" at AL.com.

Register for Tenn. conference on pregnancy and drug use

Registration is now open for "Pregnant Women, Drug Use and Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome: Research & Policies that Support Mothers, Babies, and Families." The event, which will provide information about best practices and policies for addressing opioid use during pregnancy and neonatal abstinence syndrome, will take place Oct. 2-3, in Nashville, Tenn. The conference, a joint project of NAPW and the National Perinatal Association, will bring together health-care providers, lawyers, social workers, caseworkers, journalists, legislators, academics, and activists to discuss responses to measures, like the well-publicized one in host state Tennessee, that criminalize pregnant people. Registration for the two-day event is $125, but the October 1 pre-conference hosted by Health and Free Tennessee is free. For more information on registration and scholarship opportunities, visit our symposium page.