A win in NY, no 'safe harbor' in OH, a VA case to watch & NAPW on the road

A win in New York

On Oct. 22, the New York Court of Appeals reversed the manslaughter conviction of Jennifer Jorgensen. Jorgensen was pregnant when she suffered severe injuries in a car crash, leading to an emergency cesarean section. Jorgensen was accused of recklessly causing the car accident and the deaths of other motorists, but she was eventually convicted only for the loss of her own child, who died six days after birth from prematurity. Had the conviction been upheld, Jorgensen would have faced up to nine years in prison.

In its ruling, the court said that New York's statutes were not intended to criminalize women for actions -- such as lack of bedrest, eating poorly or strenuous physical activity, for example -- that could cause unintentional pregnancy or infant loss.

While NAPW -- which filed an amicus brief supporting Jorgensen -- applauds the decision, one judge added a troubling reading of state law. The court's lone dissenting judge argued that New York State law permits prosecution of women who experience pregnancy or infant losses, and he also suggested that women who refuse cesarean surgery may be punished. As a result of the accident, Jorgensen had been severely injured and agreed to undergo cesarean surgery. Had Jorgensen refused cesarean surgery and lost the pregnancy before delivery, she would not have been charged with manslaughter. But, according to the dissenting judge, refusing cesarean surgery at 34 weeks of pregnancy would be tantamount to having a post-viability abortion -- for which a woman could also be arrested and punished under New York State law.

In the dissenting judge's view, a pregnant woman must ensure a healthy birth outcome or face criminal charges, and she also loses her rights to bodily integrity and medical decision-making. These, however, are fundamental rights that belong to all people -- pregnant or not.

Just say no to Ohio 'safe harbor' bill

Ohio House Bill No. 325, being considered this week in Columbus, isn't the type of help that drug-using pregnant women need. The bill would encourage pregnant women who are using a controlled substance to seek treatment by seemingly removing the threat of punitive state intervention. If passed, however, the law would only protect the small subset of women who are able to comply with the following three stringent requirements: (1) enrolling in a drug treatment program before the 20th week of pregnancy; (2) successfully completing or being in the process of completing that program; and (3) maintaining regularly scheduled appointments for prenatal care as recommended by a health-care provider. For the women who can meet these stipulations, the state will not initiate newborn abuse or neglect complaints due to their use of controlled substances. However, in the many cases where these standards cannot be met, complaints could be made and could result in family separation.

Legal Fellow Laura Hecht-Felella and Senior Staff Attorney Farah Diaz-Tello wrote NAPW testimony, which was submitted to the Ohio House of Representatives and pointed out multiple problems with the proposal. HB 325 would allocate no additional resources to drug treatment, but it would subject women to ongoing state surveillance during medication-assisted treatment. Additionally, the bill would protect physicians acting in good faith from civil and criminal liability. But there's no such protection for pregnant women, who would face draconian requirements that leave no room for mistakes, such as a missed prenatal care appointment or relapse. The bill promises too little in the way of evidence-based care for pregnant and parenting women, and it may cost women and families too much.

Threatened during delivery: Virginia cesarean case in court

NAPW is keeping its eyes on the case of Michelle Mitchell, which went to court in Augusta County, Virginia this week. In 2010, physicians warned Mitchell that her fetus' apparently large size might make for a difficult labor. With no clear medical reason to undergo cesarean surgery, Mitchell clearly stated her desire not to have one. Ignoring this, health-care providers threatened Mitchell -- during delivery -- with a court order forcing the surgery and child-welfare proceedings that could remove her soon-to-be-born infant from her care. Under duress and in the midst of childbirth, Mitchell had the operation. But she later filed suit, alleging that her consent was coerced and not valid.

When news came in this Monday that Mitchell's case would be in court just a few days later, NAPW Senior Staff Attorney Farah Diaz-Tello quickly got to work. In a matter of hours, she made a Facebook page that mobilized local birth justice activists to be a supportive and visible presence in the courtroom.

As for the verdict? We'll keep you posted, but check out the local news report for more information about the case.

NAPW in the media

NAPW Executive Director gave a keynote at the International Harm Reduction Conference in Malaysia. Listen to her remarks via YouTube, courtesy of Drugreporter.

Nation columnist Katha Pollitt gave NAPW a shoutout in this recent article.

ProPublica's Nina Martin did it again in a piece that exposes how some Alabama hospitals drug test pregnant women without their consent.

Miriam Yeung of the National Asian Pacific American Women's Forum (NAPAWF) published this Washington Post op-ed detailing why Asian-American women have become targets of anti-abortion activism.

Upcoming events

Tuesday, Nov. 17: NAPW's Director of Legal Advocacy Sara Ainsworth will be on a webinar to update reproductive justice activists about the Purvi Patel case. It's co-sponsored by NAPW, NAPAWF, Center on Reproductive Rights and Justice at the University of California Berkeley, and Backline. Register here.

Thursday, Nov. 19: NAPW will participate in the Drug Policy Alliance's

Monday, Nov. 30: Lynn will present the 2015 Edward Brandt Memorial Lecture in Women's Health at George Washington University.