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December 20, 2018

NAPW files legal brief supporting the right of all people, including pregnant women, to medical privacy

NAPW is in the Ohio Supreme Court supporting a young woman charged with homicide after experiencing a stillbirth. For now, the issue is whether her confidential statements to her doctors while she was pregnant can be admitted into evidence against her at trial. Our amicus brief
highlights the devastating public health consequences – along with the constitutional right violations – that result from creating a special exception to doctor-patient privilege, only for women who are or have been pregnant.

Police arrested Brooke Skylar Richardson for homicide in July 2017 in Ohio, after she experienced a stillbirth and then sought medical care. At her OB-GYN appointment, Ms. Richardson explained to her doctors that after she experienced a stillbirth she buried the remains in her backyard. Her doctors reported those statements to law enforcement, along with other earlier things she had said to them after she had learned that she was pregnant. Ms. Richardson was arrested and charged with homicide.

In the fall of 2018, Ms. Richardson asked the trial court to keep the things she said to her doctors confidential based on Ohio’s doctor-patient privilege. That court ruled against her, making it possible for those statements to be used against her at trial. Ms. Richardson appealed that ruling to the Twelfth Appellate District Court of Ohio and once again lost. In October of 2018, the Appellate Court held that, although she had not waived her doctor-patient privilege, Ms. Richardson’s statements to her doctors could be admitted in evidence against her at trial because she was pregnant at the time and her statements and behavior while pregnant could have an impact on a child.

NAPW had reached out to Ms. Richardson’s defense counsel when the charges were first filed, and in late 2018, her counsel contacted us about their plan to seek Ohio Supreme Court review of the ruling taking away a pregnant woman’s right to medical privacy. NAPW, along with the SIA Legal Team, submitted a friend of the court (amicus curiae) brief on behalf of our organizations as well as the National Perinatal Association, Center for Reproductive Rights and several other amici to the Ohio Supreme Court in December in support of Ms. Richardson’s request for review of the appellate court’s ruling. Our brief explains the serious consequences for public health and to pregnant women’s constitutional rights if the decision – which effectively creates an exception to doctor-patient privilege for pregnant women – is permitted to stand.

December 13, 2018

"Lock Her Up?" Fight Back With NAPW!

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Dear Friends and Allies,

Thank you for your commitment to National Advocates for Pregnant Women (NAPW). Whether we met you a few weeks ago or you've been with us for years, you are helping us free women from incarceration, keep families together, and stop forced medical interventions. Thanks to you, we can continue our efforts to protect the right to choose abortion and, more fundamentally, to champion pregnant women's equal rights and status as full constitutional persons.

Together we are doing this work in a frightening political context, one that has included relentless attacks on the Affordable Care Act, the confirmation of Justice Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court, and a president who encourages hate and violence.

To NAPW, the president's repeated call to "lock her up" is not merely a chant he uses to fire up his base. It is an attack on the principle of liberty for women. And, it is a reality for the hundreds of women who are already being locked up for being pregnant and having an abortion, experiencing a pregnancy loss, or disagreeing with a doctor's advice.

A year-end donation to NAPW will help us continue providing pro bono, expert legal defense to ensure women's liberty.

For example, Virginia won't be locking up Michelle Roberts who was facing felony charges of "producing an abortion" after she experienced a stillbirth at home. NAPW experts examined the evidence and found that there was no basis for the prosecution's medical claims. Based on the strength of NAPW's expert reports, the prosecutor dropped his efforts to lock Ms. Roberts up and our client's legal ordeal finally reached an end.

Arkansas won't be locking up Anne Bynum who was arrested, convicted, and sentenced to 6 years in prison because prosecutors wanted to punish her for what they wrongfully believed was an at-home abortion. In fact, she had experienced a stillbirth. That, however, did not stop prosecutors who are interested in controlling women's lives and bodies from coming up with criminal charges against her - including the archaic crime of "concealing a birth." NAPW represented Ms. Bynum on her appeal, got her original conviction overturned, and on November 30, 2018, resolved her case without a retrial and without a plea to any crime.

In Indiana, NAPW helped stop prosecutors from keeping Bei Bei Shuai and Purvi Patel locked up. Recently Indiana prosecutors tried yet again to use their feticide law to lock up another woman, Kelli Driskel. In 2018, Ms. Driskel faced feticide and involuntary manslaughter charges after experiencing a stillbirth. Once again, NAPW brought our extensive legal experience along with our commitment to organizing and education. We helped local counsel prepare a motion to dismiss the charges and working with Indiana and national allies, prepared an open letter calling on the prosecutor to drop the charges and set Ms. Driskel free. And, in September, that is exactly what he did.

Because of your support, NAPW has been able to build much needed infrastructure. For example, we have increased the number of staff attorneys who have significant experience in criminal and parent defense, birth justice, and international human rights. Because of you, we can counter jeering calls to "lock her up" with legal victories that set women free!

Please give to NAPW so that we can continue to bring attention to and advocate for the growing number of pregnant women threatened with arrest and other forms of government control and surveillance.

Our op-ed earlier this year in the New York Times drew new attention to the number of pregnant women who have been locked up and to the prospect of even more arrests if Roe v. Wade is overturned. Indeed, the new Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court recently made clear that, in his view, all that stands between pregnant women who have abortions and being arrested for murder and receiving the death penalty is
Roe v. Wade.

NAPW needs your financial contribution so that we can not only work to preserve Roe v. Wade, but also to stop the criminalization and dehumanization of pregnant women. We need your support to continue NAPW's advocacy inside courtrooms and, whether that succeeds or fails, on the streets.

During this past year, a federal court of appeals used technical legal grounds to set aside our hard-won district court victory declaring Act 292, Wisconsin's "Unborn Child Protection Act", unconstitutionally vague (Act 292 is the law that allows Wisconsin to lock up and forcibly "treat" pregnant women who use any amount of alcohol or a controlled substance). And, while most of us think that pregnant women, like all adults, have a right to refuse surgery, lower New York State courts have so far upheld a hospital's secret policy authorizing doctors to perform major surgery on pregnant women without their consent.

NAPW is not giving up. That is why NAPW, partnering with Reproaction, now has an organizer on the ground in Wisconsin. This organizer is using direct action to build opposition to Act 292 in a state where the governor and attorney general, who have staunchly defended the law, lost their bids for re-election. In addition, NAPW has hired a full-time organizer who will start by developing a campaign to end all policies in New York's largest hospital system that allow doctors to deny pregnant patients their fundamental rights to liberty, bodily integrity, medical decision making, privacy, and informed consent.

NAPW will take the organizing and local power building lessons learned from these campaigns forward to build our capacity to defend pregnant women in the courts, in the streets, and everywhere across the nation.

We have often said: "We need your support now, more than ever." This remains incontrovertibly true today. Please make a generous contribution to NAPW.

Help NAPW ensure that no one is locked up, shamed, or denied their rights because they have the capacity for pregnancy, are pregnant, or because of any outcome of a pregnancy.

In Solidarity,

Lynn M. Paltrow
Founder and Executive Director

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December 12, 2018

Victory in Arkansas 

The long and twisted prosecution of Anne Bynum has finally been resolved without a new trial and without a conviction for any crime.

In 2015, Arkansas law enforcement officials apparently believed that Anne Bynum had taken steps to have an abortion at home. Because of that, prosecutors believed she deserved to be arrested and sent to jail. As it turns out, Ms. Bynum experienced a stillbirth at home. That, however, did not stop prosecutors who are interested in controlling women’s lives and bodies from coming up with charges against her.

After the stillbirth, Ms. Bynum safeguarded the fetal remains and, several hours later, brought those remains to a hospital, asking to see a doctor. Ms. Bynum was arrested five days later on two felony charges: “concealing a birth” (carrying a potential six-year prison sentence and $10,000 fine) and “abuse of a corpse” (carrying a sentence of up to 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.)

At her first trial, the abuse charge was thrown out but Ms. Bynum was convicted of “concealing a birth.” In addition to telling the jury about Ms. Bynum’s pregnancy and past reproductive history, the prosecutor argued that the jury should convict Ms. Bynum – an adult in her 30’s - because she had not told her mother she was pregnant and because she had temporarily placed the stillborn fetus in her car before going to the hospital. He made this claim despite evidence that she told many people about her pregnancy, contacted several people after the stillbirth, and then went to the hospital with the fetal remains. The jury nevertheless convicted Ms. Bynum and sentenced her to six years in prison.

National Advocates for Pregnant Women then became Ms. Bynum’s direct counsel and appealed this conviction. The Arkansas Court of Appeals ruled unanimously to reverse Anne Bynum’s conviction. The three-judge panel found that the trial court had abused its discretion by allowing the jury to consider evidence about Ms. Bynum’s past pregnancies and outcomes that “clearly prejudiced” the verdict in the case. 

Although Ms. Bynum’s conviction was overturned, the Court of Appeals sent the case back to the trial level, which allowed the prosecutor to retry Ms. Bynum on the same charge. And, indeed that was the prosecutor’s plan. We are thrilled to report, however, that as a result of NAPW's advocacy, Ms. Bynum’s case has finally been resolved with a plea to a non-criminal “violation.” 

NAPW celebrates this victory with Ms. Bynum. NAPW will continue to fight to ensure that no person fears arrest as a result of pregnancy or any outcome of pregnancy - including abortion, miscarriage, stillbirth, or birth.

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