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September 28, 2017

Victories in Idaho and New York!

NAPW recently helped get serious felony criminal charges dismissed for two women targeted in relationship to pregnancy.

A case against an Idaho woman who faced a felony injury to a child charge after alleged drug use while pregnant was dismissed in April 2017. NAPW worked together with the Idaho woman's defense lawyer who argued that the child injury statue could not be used to criminalize pregnancy or actions while pregnant, and that if the court judicially expanded the law for such a prosecution, that would violate the woman's constitutional rights.

The motion to dismiss all charges also included a medical doctor's affidavit submitted in support of the woman. In this affidavit, Dr. Richard Hearn wrote:

"There is an unusually large consensus among professional medical associations--the American Medical Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics--that punishment of women in relation to their drug use is harmful health policy. The recommended response to substance use and substance use disorders is health care, not punishment."

NAPW, with local counsel in Idaho, also drafted and submitted an amicus curae (friend of the court) brief on behalf of several medical experts and the National Perinatal Association, National Coalition for Child Protection Reform, and National Council of Alcoholism and Drug Dependence in support of the defendant. As a result of these efforts, the woman's criminal case was dismissed.

In New York, a case against a woman who faced charges of manslaughter and endangering the welfare of a child after she gave birth to a baby who passed away shortly after birth was dismissed.

Despite the fact that the state's highest court had ruled years earlier that a prosecution like this was not allowed, a prosecutor in the rural Southern Tier of the state charged the woman with these serious crimes based on her alleged use of a drug during pregnancy.

When the woman's criminal defense attorney contacted NAPW for assistance, NAPW wrote and filed an amicus curiae brief in support of the woman's motion to dismiss the charges. The amicus brief from NAPW and other organizations articulated public health concerns as well as national medical organizations' policies opposing criminal prosecutions of women for alleged conduct during pregnancy. The brief also addressed constitutional rights violated by the prosecution. In September 2017, the court accepted the amicus brief and dismissed all criminal charges in this case.

September 27, 2017

U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention Criticizes Detention of Pregnant Women in the U.S.

In July 2017, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention issued a report criticizing the detention of pregnant women in the United States and highlighting the harsh Wisconsin law NAPW and our allies have been working to defeat. Wisconsin Act 292, which a federal court found unconstitutional, targets pregnant women for state intervention and allows forced detention of pregnant women alleged to have used alcohol or controlled substances.

In strong language, the U.N. working group concluded that Wisconsin's law "lacks due process and serves as a deterrent for other women who require health care . . . This form of deprivation of liberty is gendered and discriminatory in its reach and application, as pregnancy, combined with the presumption of drug use is the determining factor for involuntary treatment." During the working group's country visit to the U.S. in 2016, they had met with NAPW's client Tamara Loertscher, who is serving as the plaintiff challenging Wisconsin's law in federal court, and discussed her horrific experience in Wisconsin under Act 292.

The working group reported on "the deprivation of liberty in the context of immigration, the criminal justice system, on health-related grounds and the situation at Guantanamo Bay," and chose to highlight the detention of pregnant women. The report recommends that the U.S. "should maximize the availability of health care for pregnant women . . . so that responses to substance use in pregnancy prioritize human rights and public health" and ensure that treatment is " voluntary and respects due process guarantees."

The working group's report along with conclusions and recommendations was submitted to the U.N. Human Rights Council at its September session. The United Nations Human Rights Council is an inter-governmental body made up of 47 nations to promote and protect human rights around the world.

Read the full report, "Report of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention on its visit to the United States of America," here.