Legal Advocacy

One way to simplify and sum up NAPW's legal advocacy work is to say: If you are locked up because you are knocked up - call NAPW! This is because NAPW is the leading organization providing pro-bono (free) criminal defense for pregnant women charged with crimes in relationship to their pregnancies – for having an abortion, experiencing a pregnancy loss, or because a woman was pregnant and a law enforcement official believed she was somehow endangering her pregnancy whether by falling down a flight of stairs or by using alcohol or a criminalized drug.

NAPW’s legal advocacy, however, takes numerous forms:

In some cases NAPW becomes direct counsel or co-counsel in a case. In these cases, we directly represent a client who may have been charged with a crime, threatened with state action such as court ordered surgery or who is challenging the constitutionality of a law such as Wisconsin’s Act 292 that allows the state to deprive a pregnant woman of her right to medical decision making, bodily integrity, physical liberty and to parent her child.

In addition to directly representing clients in some cases, NAPW assists other lawyers and organizations representing pregnant women by providing advice and model briefs, by conducting legal research, drafting court papers, and arranging for pro bono experts.

In all of our major cases, NAPW develops a comprehensive strategy addressing the underlying issues or agenda represented by the prosecution. This strategy typically includes enlisting support from other organizations and individuals as experts and amici and working with local and state-based activists who organize against the prosecution or other action taken against the pregnant person.

NAPW also works with and often represents scores of leading medical, public health and advocacy organizations and experts as amici (friends of the court) who educate courts, policy makers, and the public about pregnant women, drugs, and the real threats to their health and the health of their children and families.

NAPW’s cases are not limited to one state or region of the United States. Our legal work as counsel for women directly affected, as counsel for amici, or as pivotal advisors may be in everything from local trial courts to the United State Supreme Court. Wherever possible, NAPW includes International Human Rights arguments in our US cases and we bring our legal expertise to select international human rights cases and advocacy efforts.

Along with direct case involvement, NAPW staff give brief advice, counseling, materials and referrals to people who call or submit written inquiries each day via our [24 hour] telephone and electronic intake systems.

NAPW also engages in policy and legislative advocacy work.

NAPW provides allies and activists with analysis of proposed legislation and policies, supports initiatives that affirm the civil and human rights of pregnant people, and opposes efforts that threaten or undermine those rights, and advise advocates, activists, and policymakers at the local, state, federal and international levels.

NAPW uses all of the tools available to us including filing formal complaints, commenting on proposed regulations and legislation, exposing the real impact of proposed fetal personhood measure and filing highly effective submissions to United Nation’s Working Groups and Special Rapporteurs who bring attention to how policies permitting arrests of pregnant women violate international human rights.

NAPW recognizes that each arrest or other misuse of state power over pregnant people reflects a larger political effort to undermine Roe v. Wade and to distract attention from the government's failure to support pregnant women, families, and communities, and NAPW organizes and mobilizes accordingly.

Victory in Arkansas

December 21, 2018

Nationwide Coalition Calls on DOJ to Denounce Enhanced Sentence for Pregnant Woman

October 07, 2014

Nationwide Coalition Calls on Department of Justice to Denounce Enhanced Sentence for Pregnant Woman. Download the letter here.

NAPW Seeks Plaintiffs to Challenge Alabama Law Used to Arrest and Prosecute Pregnant Women

September 30, 2014

Press Statement: Unanimous NJ Supreme Court Decision Affirms that Drug War Propaganda and Junk Science Provides No Basis for Child Neglect and Abuse Finding Against Pregnant Women

February 06, 2013

Press Statement: National Advocates for Pregnant Women’s Lynn Paltrow on Alabama Supreme Court’s Decision in “Personhood” Measure in Disguise Case

January 12, 2013

JANUARY 12, 2013
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Federal Court Rejects Idaho's Claim That it May Punish Women Who End Their Pregnancies

September 14, 2012

Press Release: US Crt of Appeals protects women from prosecution after abortion

September 12, 2012

PRESS RELEASE: Yesterday the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit issued a strong ruling protecting pregnant women and their decisions in the case McCormack v. Hiedeman. In the first decision of its kind, the Court affirmed the trial court's preliminary injunction preventing the state from using Idaho's criminal abortion statutes to prosecute a woman for seeking abortion care, finding her constitutional challenge was likely to succeed on the merits.

NAPW: At the White House and In the Courts

September 07, 2012

Press Release: NAPW, 50 Leading Medical, Public Health, and Child Welfare Organizations and Experts To Argue to NJ Supreme Court on Monday that Family Courts Should Insist on Science Not Stigma

September 07, 2012

Bei Bei Shuai - Out of Jail and Refusing to Give In

July 20, 2012

On Friday of last week, Bei Bei Shuai once again demonstrated her enormous courage. Ms. Shuai turned down a plea bargain - an offer from the prosecutor in which the state would drop the murder charge if she would plead guilty to the lesser crime of attempted feticide. Ms. Shuai stood firm and refused.

Truthout Covers NAPW and our Cases

June 15, 2012

Eleanor Bader discusses how NAPW's legal work broadens the debate beyond pro-life versus pro-choice and challenges both sides to come together to stand-up for the basic human rights of ALL women, a pro-lives movement.

Read her article here.

Indiana's Gift to Mothers: Murder Charges for Miscarriages

June 07, 2012

This case is not just about one woman. Legal cases set precedent for everyone.

Ms. Bei Bei Shuai Out of Jail but Far From Free

June 06, 2012

We are very happy to report that, with NAPW's help, Ms. Shuai is finally out of the jail cell that she was held in for over a year. Make no mistake, however, Ms. Shuai is far from free.

Devastating Decision in Indiana: Pregnancy Losses May Be Treated as Murder

May 16, 2012

Just in time for Mother's Day, the Indiana Supreme Court let stand a Court of Appeals decision that tells mothers that if they experience a pregnancy loss they can be charged with the crimes of feticide and murder.


March 14, 2012

If you follow National Advocates for Pregnant Women on Facebook and Twitter, you already know that Katha Pollitt has written an important article for The Nation magazine: Protect Pregnant Women: Free Bei Bei Shuai.

We hope you will read the article and take action: Please sign this petition demanding Ms. Shuai’s freedom.

Liberty for Pregnant Women in the “Land of the Free”

January 19, 2012

Fighting Personhood Measures -- In Disguise

December 02, 2011

We are still celebrating the fact that Mississippians soundly rejected the so-called “personhood” measure that would have given fertilized eggs, embryos, and fetuses separate legal rights. We know that when people understand that fetal separatist measures hurt all pregnant women, they mobilize. But prosecutors are still trying to use the courts to put into place the same kinds of personhood measures – only in disguise.

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Victory in MS

November 14, 2011

Yesterday, Mississippians rejected (58-42) Proposition 26 that would have recognized fertilized eggs, embryos, and fetuses as separate legal persons under Mississippi law. Put another way, yesterday, 58% of Mississippians supported and reaffirmed the constitutional personhood of pregnant women.
We say this because NAPW knows that so-called personhood measures, as well as more subtle but just as dangerous feticide laws and anti-abortion legislation, are all ultimately designed to deprive pregnant women of their status as full persons under the law.

Seeing Attacks on Roe as Opportunities

October 20, 2011

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National Advocates for Pregnant Women is pleased to share Missed Opportunities in McCorvey v. Hill: The Limits of Pro-Choice Lawyering, published in the New York University Review of Law and Social Change. This article is an outgrowth of a speech given by Founder and Executive Director, Lynn Paltrow, at the New York University School of Law as part of a symposium, From Page to Practice: Broadening the Lens for Reproductive and Sexual Rights.

Locking up pregnant women: the new cure for mental health problems?

March 31, 2011

As NAPW’s newest commentary in RH Reality Check and the Huffington Post makes clear, state laws treating fertilized eggs, embryos, and fetuses as legally separate from the pregnant women who carry, nurture, and sustain them creates the basis for denying pregnant women their personhood and their right to be treated like other human beings.

Protecting Dignity – Building Coalitions

December 09, 2010

We believe that a pregnant teenager who experiences a stillbirth deserves dignity and the power of a broad coalition behind her.

That is why when NAPW and Mississippi counsel Rob McDuff and Carrie Jourdan filed the opening briefs in the R.G. case in the Mississippi Supreme Court, we didn’t do it alone. Five amicus briefs representing 70 local, state, national, and international organizations were filed in support of Ms. G., and in support of dignity, human rights, and the health of women and children. We want to highlight for you this spectacular collaborative effort.

Colorado defeats Fetal-Separatist Ballot Measure 3-1

October 27, 2010

This week, voters in Colorado once again rejected an effort to amend the Colorado state constitution to grant eggs, embryos, and fetuses separate, legal status from the pregnant women who carry, nurture, and sustain them. In the week leading up to the vote , NAPW released a commentary, PersonhoodUSA's Radical, Fetal-Separatist Agenda published on both RH Reality Check and the Huffington Post. Here is what we had to say:

Responding to the Arrests of Pregnant Women in Alabama

October 13, 2010

In 2008, Amanda K. was six months pregnant and went into early labor with a prolapsed umbilical cord. She went to a local hospital for care where she underwent emergency cesarean surgery to facilitate delivery of her son. Unfortunately, her son, delivered prematurely, died shortly after delivery.

Superior Court of New Jersey has ruled in favor of VM

August 06, 2010

We are happy to report that the Appellate Division of the Superior Court of New Jersey has ruled in favor of VM in New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services vs. V.M. and B.G.. In the Matter of J.M.G.

In this case, a VM's refusal to sign a consent form for cesarean surgery led to hospital interventions and a report of abuse to child welfare authorities.

Health Experts Warn Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals That Prosecuting Pregnant Women As Drug Labs Is Bad For Babies

July 12, 2010

MONTGOMERY, ALABAMA- On Friday, attorneys asked the court for permission to file an amicus curiae (friend-of-the-court) brief in the case A.K. v. Alabama (Docket: CR-09-0485) on behalf of twenty-four public health advocates, organizations and experts. This public health brief has been filed in support of A.K., who was convicted under Alabama’s chemical endangerment law because she attempted to carry her pregnancy to term in spite of a drug problem.

VIctory in Kentucky Supreme Court!

June 17, 2010

I am thrilled to let you know that the Kentucky Supreme Court once again refused to advance the war on drugs to women's wombs and made clear that pregnant women, no less than other persons, are protected by the rule of law. By refusing to accept the prosecution's argument that the "unborn" should be legally disconnected from the pregnant women who carry them and treated as if they were separate legal persons, this decision protects the civil and reproductive rights and health of all women in Kentucky.

The War on Drugs Coming to a Womb Near You

June 10, 2010

National Advocates for Pregnant Women (NAPW) works on behalf of all pregnant women including pregnant women who have been arrested and charged with child abuse or some other crime because they continued a pregnancy to term in spite of a drug problem. These pregnant women are particularly unpopular. Liked or disliked, misunderstood or understood, their cases have huge legal implications for all pregnant women- potentially setting devastating precedent that could establish special, separate legal rights for the fetus and the basis for punishing all pregnant women, including those who suffer miscarriages.

Utah Continues Reckless Efforts to Lock-Up Pregnant Women

March 06, 2010

On Thursday, a Utah legislator withdrew a bill that would allow sentences of up to life in prison for a woman who experiences a miscarriage or stillbirth as a result of her "reckless" behavior. This move has been attributed to a "firestorm" of opposition. Almost immediately, however, Utah legislators revised the bill to exempt women who commit reckless acts but permit the prosecution of women who commit "knowing" acts that may result in stillbirths and miscarriages from the earliest stages of pregnancy.

Arresting pregnant women is bad for babies: Kentucky Case Progresses and Advocates Speak Out

December 09, 2009

Tomorrow, December 10, 2009 the Kentucky Supreme Court will hear oral argument in a case involving the prosecution of a pregnant, drug-using woman. It is an important opportunity to understand the broader issues at stake in cases that seem narrowly focused on the very small percentage of pregnant women who use illegal drugs. Oral argument is scheduled for 10 AM and you will be able to watch a live stream of the arguments by clicking this link

NAPW Advocating on Behalf of Precious Women

November 27, 2009

Last weekend I saw the movie Precious. This movie, about "an overweight, illiterate teen who is pregnant with her second child" is a soaring tribute to human dignity and, for me, captures the reasons why NAPW takes the cases we do.

Recently, NAPW chose to work on behalf of R.G. -- an African American teenager from Mississippi who became pregnant when she was fifteen. She suffered a stillbirth one month after turning sixteen. What was the state's response? They arrested her and charged her with murder.

NAPW learned about the case shortly before R.G. was scheduled to go on trial as an adult. We learned that her mother's efforts to obtain help from other organizations had been rebuffed. NAPW reached out to her local counsel and offered our assistance.

Victory: Shackling Pregnant Prisoners in Labor Found to be Cruel!

October 05, 2009

On Friday, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eight Circuit (the federal level appellate court that reviews decisions from federal district courts in North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, Nebraska, Missouri, Minnesota, and Arkansas) issued the long-awaited decision in Nelson v. Norris. In this case, Shawanna Nelson argued that being forced to go through the final stages of labor with both legs shackled to her hospital bed was cruel and unusual punishment, in violation of the 8th Amendment to the Constitution. She argued that she should be allowed to sue the director of the prison and the guard who repeatedly re-shackled her legs to the bed. Ms. Nelson, an African-American woman, was incarcerated for non-violent offenses of credit card fraud and "hot checks."

Victory in Maine re-sentencing

August 04, 2009

A U.S. District Court Judge in Maine held a sentencing hearing for an HIV positive, pregnant woman from Cameroon and released her on time served. You may recall that earlier this summer Judge Woodcock sentenced her to 238 days, stating this sentence was calculated specifically to ensure that she remained incarcerated for the duration of her pregnancy, rather than time served as recommend by Federal Sentencing Guidelines, the U.S. Attorney and the defense attorney.

Amicus Briefs filed in Kentucky Supreme Court

February 24, 2009

Today, February 24th, NAPW filed a public health amicus brief on behalf of ACOG, the APA, and other groups before the Kentucky Supreme Court in Cochran v. Commonwealth in a case where a woman was prosecuted for continuing her pregnancy to term in spite of a drug problem.

Theresa Lee Hernandez is Released! Video Footage

November 21, 2008

News 9 video

KOCO News 5 video