Activist Update: Abortion and So Much More at Stake

Dear Friends and Allies,

As you have no doubt heard, the U.S. Supreme Court announced last week that they had agreed to hear the case of June Medical Services, LLC v. Gee, a challenge to a Louisiana law restricting access to abortion. NAPW has long been working with allies to anticipate and develop strategies for preserving the right to choose abortion - even with the Supreme Court currently stacked with anti-abortion appointees. But this is not all that NAPW has been doing. NAPW is the organization keeping track of, exposing, and fighting the ways in which being pregnant puts all women (whether they want to end a pregnancy or not) at risk in this age of rage and anti-abortion ideology.

Please read about some of our accomplishments over the past few months demonstrating that victories are still achievable; our ongoing campaigns and work promoting values of respect and care for pregnant women around the world; and our commitment to all pregnant people, including those who use drugs. And, speaking of pregnancy and drugs, we hope you will join our webinar on October 17 at 1 pm EDT. This webinar will explain how the war on drugs is paving the way for ending the right to abortion, and how working together across movements can protect the heath and lives of everyone.


In Solidarity,


Lynn M. Paltrow
Founder and Executive Director
National Advocates for Pregnant Women


Victory in Tennessee:
Prosecutor Drops All Charges Against Tiffany Roberts

On July 23, 2019, police arrested Tiffany Roberts in Chattanooga, Tennessee charging her with first-degree murder, aggravated child abuse and neglect, and "viable fetus as a victim" after she gave birth prematurely to twins at 23 weeks who died shortly after the birth. To justify the outrageous idea that women can be held liable for the outcome of their pregnancies, the police claimed that this pregnancy loss was the result of Ms. Roberts' alleged drug use. She was jailed on a $1 million bond. National Advocates for Pregnant Women and a coalition of Tennessee and national advocates and experts spoke out quickly and forcefully against the arrest and charges that violated the Constitution, defied state law, and had no support in medical science.

NAPW also reached out to offer legal assistance to Ms. Roberts and her attorney and then swiftly wrote and organized an open letter to Hamilton County District Attorney Pinkston urging him to drop the unjustified charges. The letter emphasized that there is no place for police or prosecutors when people seek reproductive health care. We worked with Healthy and Free Tennessee, SisterReach, and other Tennessee allies to secure 168 local and national medical, public health, and legal experts, reproductive justice and health care organizations, and citizens of Tennessee as signatories on the letter delivered to the District Attorney.

The prosecutor responded by doing the right thing. On August 1, 2019, he dropped all charges against Ms. Roberts. This victory demonstrates the importance and impact of organizing in an era when we can count less and less on courts and legislators.

Abortion Cases Are Not the Only Ones Threatening Reproductive Health and Rights in the Federal Court System

While most people are focused on the states passing anti-abortion laws and the legal challenges to them, NAPW knows that those are not the only kinds of cases that pose a risk to Roe v. Wade and the rights of pregnant women. That is why NAPW was ready to take quick action in the case of U.S. v. Flute. In this case, Samantha Flute, a Native American woman, was arrested and charged with manslaughter under federal law. Her arrest was based on the death of her newborn baby, which prosecutors alleged happened because she was pregnant and using drugs. A federal trial court judge correctly dismissed the charges two years ago because the federal manslaughter law was not intended to address issues of pregnancy and pregnancy outcomes. Nevertheless, the government appealed. In a very disturbing opinion with nationwide implications, a three-judge panel (2-to-1) of the 8th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals reversed the lower court's decision. They concluded that the federal manslaughter law could be used to charge a woman for the death of her newborn because of something she allegedly did or did not do while pregnant. This decision, if not overturned, could open the door to use the manslaughter law, as well as many other federal criminal laws, as a basis for arresting and locking-up pregnant women who experience miscarriages, stillbirths, or have abortions.

We have been tracking this case since the beginning. When her lawyers made a strategic decision to seek review from all of the judges on the 8th Circuit, NAPW was there to help. In less than two weeks, we wrote and organized an amicus brief in support of full court (en banc) review on behalf of numerous public health organizations. While the Court of Appeals has not yet decided whether they will accept the case for en banc review, we take it as a positive sign that the court accepted our amicus brief.

Keeping the Pressure On: Pregnant Patients are Persons and - Their Rights Must be Protected

NAPW is continuing our organizing and education campaign to hold Northwell Health accountable for its hospitals' actions and policies that authorize forced medical interventions on their pregnant patients. NAPW will not give up on our efforts to ensure that no pregnant patient is again denied their constitutional and statutory rights as Rinat Dray was at Northwell's Staten Island University Hospital (SIUH) when she was forced to undergo cesarean surgery. On July 11, we reached out to Northwell and sent them our petition with the first set of signatures -- more than 3,000 -- demanding that all of their healthcare facilities honor the decisions of pregnant patients.

Unfortunately, SIUH continues to defend its actions and thus far Northwell has failed to respond to the petition or announce what, if any, steps they have taken to safeguard the civil and human rights of their pregnant patients. So our campaign for accountability continues with actions outside Northwell's health facilities and at such events as Miles for Midwives. To find out how you can help, please contact NAPW Organizer Kendall Bentsen at KDB@AdvocatesforPregnantWomen.org. Also, if you haven't signed the petition already, please do so here (http://bit.ly/napwChange). And, if you haven't also asked your friends, family, colleagues to sign yet, please do!

NAPW Demanding That Pregnant People Deserve Science Not Stigma

In the context of the current nationwide litigation seeking to hold pharmaceutical companies liable for the over-prescription of opioids in the U.S., a team of private lawyers calling themselves the "Opioid Justice League" has been seeking court approval to separately represent the interests of children born to women who used opioids during pregnancy. By distinguishing themselves from hundreds of other lawsuits that have been combined into a single nationwide suit, these lawyers, better described as the "Pregnancy Profiteers," can potentially recover enormous money damages for their clients and attorneys' fees for themselves. As evidenced by their court papers, a widely distributed press statement, and a Washington Post story, these lawyers are peddling dangerous myths about women, pregnancy, drug use, and the children born to women who have used opioids in any form and for any reason. Similar claims about pregnant women's drug use in the past have led to the arrest, prosecution, detention, and forced treatment of pregnant women and to government action stigmatizing and traumatizing children born to those women.

In implementing this legal strategy, the Pregnancy Profiteers also attempted to leapfrog their cases ahead of the others by asking for a shocking, urgent order (preliminary injunction) requiring that no woman "capable of becoming pregnant" be allowed to receive any opioid medication for any reason until she had first been tested for pregnancy and determined not to be pregnant. Even if she tested negative for pregnancy, the woman would only be allowed to receive an opioid-based medication for pain or any other reason for seven days and then would be cut off unless she was tested again and able to demonstrate she had not become pregnant.

NAPW has been tracking this litigation. Fortunately the courts have thus far rejected their efforts, but the misinformation has been reaching the public as well as the courts. That is why NAPW prepared and released a statement and fact sheet calling on journalists and members of the public who care about the health and well-being of women and children to reject the stigmatizing medical misinformation and dangerous recommendations of the Pregnancy Profiteers.

In addition to the Pregnancy Profiteers, NAPW has had to respond to other claims of harm to pregnant women and their children from drug use that are once again being used to undermine positive, public health approaches to pregnancy, drug use and addiction. For example, in August, the U.S. Surgeon General issued an Advisory on marijuana that presented misleading information about risks of harm to babies from pregnant women's marijuana use, apparently as part of a political effort to counter greater public acceptance of marijuana decriminalization and to reinforce abstinence- only approaches. NAPW's letter challenging the advisory and media coverage of it was published in the New York Times on September 5, 2019.

NAPW Advocates for Pregnant and Parenting People to the U.N. Human Rights Council

NAPW, along with allies, provided two joint submissions to the United Nations in October. One statement addresses the Criminalization and Civil Punishment of Pregnancy and Pregnancy Outcomes and the other addresses Reproductive Health, Rights and Justice. Both are designed to inform the U.N. Human Rights Council for its Universal Periodic Review of the U.S. and its human rights record. NAPW has participated in this process in the past, and continues to bring attention to the problematic laws and policies that deny human rights to pregnant and parenting people in the U.S. These submissions provide critical information about U.S. policies that undermine reproductive rights and health, as well as the criminal and civil legal systems that improperly surveil, prosecute, and incarcerate people based on their capacity for pregnancy or pregnancy outcomes. We are hopeful these submissions will influence and contribute to recommendations by the Council regarding steps the U.S. needs to take to implement and work towards meeting all of its international human rights obligations.

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