Media Breakthrough – How Anti-Abortion Measures Harm All Pregnant Women

As many of you know, The New York Times recently ran a front page story about the Alicia Beltran case that Pregnancy Justice helped to file with lead counsel, Wisconsin Attorney Linda S. Vanden Heuvel, and the Reproductive Justice Clinic at NYU School of Law. This case has inspired a great deal of thoughtful media coverage, including an NBC News story, "Shackled and pregnant: Wis. case challenges 'fetal protection' law;" a Wisconsin Public Radio interview with Pregnancy Justice that included a chilling call-in from another woman threatened with arrest in Wisconsin; a Thom Hartmann Show segment featuring Pregnancy Justice, Why is the GOP Inserting Gov. into a Women's Uterus?; and an entire segment on the case with specific reference to Pregnancy Justice's work and perspectives on Melissa Harris-Perry's show on MSNBC.

Many of the stories inspired by Ms. Beltran's case reference and link to our published, peer-reviewed research in the Journal of Health Politics, Policy and Law and American Journal of Public Health. These stories expand on our message - that anti-abortion and related measures supported by so-called "right to life" organizations undermine the rights and humanity of all pregnant women. For example, Salon's story, "The right's war on pregnant women," makes this point the focus of their coverage:

It is no secret that this has been a banner year for laws attempting to recriminalize abortion. During the first six months of 2013, states adopted 43 provisions to ban abortion, impose medically unnecessary restrictions on providers or otherwise regulate the procedure into nonexistence.

But framing the current assault on reproductive rights exclusively in terms of abortion rights erases another, equally dangerous reality faced by women who intend to carry their pregnancies to term: laws that establish personhood for fertilized eggs, embryos and fetuses aren't just a threat to women's access to abortion - they are also being used to criminalize and incarcerate pregnant women.

From the forced detention of pregnant women suspected of substance dependence to the use of "fetal homicide" laws against women who experience miscarriages and stillbirths, anti-choice lawmakers and groups like National Right to Life - so long the self-declared "champions" of motherhood - are waging a war on women hoping to become mothers.

The New Republic piece, "How the 'Crack Baby' Scare Armed the Pro-Life Cause," exposes how anti-abortion activists have used the drug war to advance their agenda against pregnant women. As the story explains:

But the Wisconsin law was ushered through legislatures in 1997 by anti-abortion lobbyists, not drug crusaders. It missed the war on cocaine by almost a decade, and was written after the idea that drug abuse was uniquely damaging to fetuses had been roundly debunked. . . . Rather, the law Beltran is challenging - along with others of its kind - was a sidelong way of codifying the argument that a fetus is a person with rights separate from its mother's. And that's exactly what happened in Beltran's case: The New York Times reported that Wisconsin appointed a legal guardian for her fetus when it called her to court - but not for Beltran. "I didn't know unborn children had lawyers," she said recently.

The media attention about the case has also prompted Wisconsin Legislator Chris Taylor to speak out against the law and consider efforts to repeal it, "Wisconsin Lawmaker Seeks Change to 'Fetal Protection' Law."

Pregnancy Justice knows that both truth and persistence matter. Laura Huss, Pregnancy Justice's Program Associate and Kylee Sunderlin, Pregnancy Justice's Soros Justice Fellow, have created a media campaign to call out journalists who advance junk science about pregnant women and drug use. This campaign was launched in response to a misleading story entitled "How To Save A Newborn Drug Addict." The journalist listened, responded with a story correcting her mistakes, and credited Pregnancy Justice for bringing them to her attention:

But after the story aired I got a message from the Pregnancy Justice. They feel my story stigmatizes women who use methadone or prescription drugs during pregnancy. That women are advised to use methadone to treat addiction during pregnancy. Having seen these sweet little babies suffer, I just couldn't believe it. But I was sent a list of dozens of doctors from around the country who have done research on the subject. So I decided to put my emotions aside and look into the facts...

What follows is an excellent story that includes this important observation by a methadone treatment provider: As far as stigmatizing these women for using drugs during pregnancy, Micki thinks it's important to point out that these mothers love their babies just like any mother does.

Thank you for your support and expect more positive reporting and successes to come!