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Personhood USA’s Unhinged Response to National Advocates for Pregnant Women Study

10:38 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Imani Gandy for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

Pregnant woman

Pregnant women losing their constitutional rights? "Personhood USA" responds.

There’s an old saying: A hit dog will holler. That phrase came to mind as I read Personhood USA’s unhinged response to the new study conducted by Lynn Paltrow of National Advocates for Pregnant Women (NAPW) and Professor Jeanne Flavin of Fordham University.

The NAPW study found hundreds of cases in which pregnant women were arrested, detained, or otherwise deprived of personal liberty, as a result of the “passage of feticide measures and laws restricting access to safe abortion care that, like so-called ‘personhood’ measures, encourage state actors to treat eggs, embryos, and fetuses as if they are legally separate from the pregnant woman.” Since the conclusion of the study in 2005, approximately 250 more cases have been discovered.

The cases are horrific, ranging from women who were forced to have C-sections against their will (and died as a result); to women who were imprisoned to prevent them from having an abortion; to a woman who was jailed until her lawyers were able to prove that her miscarriage resulted from medication given to her by her doctor; to a woman who wanted to have her birth attended by a midwife, but was taken to a hospital by the sheriff’s department pursuant to a court order, and forced to undergo involuntary testing and medical treatment.

The study was comprehensive and damning, and Personhood USA’s press release in response is classic. Unable to argue with the data, science, and facts painstakingly detailed in the study, Jennifer Mason founders in a sea of personal attacks and logical fallacies. Mason cannot attack the study itself, so she cries bias and attacks the study’s authors, and resorts to the sort of paint-by-numbers emotional rhetoric that has become de rigeuer for the anti-choice movement:

[T]o Lynn Paltrow and the National Advocates for Pregnant Women, babies are little more than human garbage. Far from being true advocates for pregnant women, the NAPW seeks to dehumanize the baby, the very human being whose existence makes his or her mother a pregnant woman. The devaluing of human life is a disservice to mother and child.

“Human garbage” seems a tad over-the-top, but Mason is on a roll:

The personhood of the child in the womb is dangerous to groups like NAPW because they seem to believe that there is NO case in which a woman should be prosecuted for endangering her child in the womb, and there is NO restriction on abortion that is permissible. Our wealthy enemies — Planned Parenthood, NOW, NARAL, and NAPW — will not suffer any regulations or restrictions, including those well-intentioned restrictions to make clinics ‘safer.’ With a zero-tolerance policy for any abortion restriction whatsoever, of course personhood is loathed by these adversaries of human life, and made into a scapegoat.

Personhood USA’s “wealthy enemies” and “adversaries of human life” are three women’s rights organizations that seek to improve the health and welfare of all women, whether pregnant or not. But according to Personhood USA, groups like NAPW and NARAL are coming for your family, aborting everything and everyone in their path.

Mason’s outrage continues when she discusses Amanda Kimbrough’s case (which I wrote about at length here):

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You Can’t Have it Both Ways: The Interpretation of Catholic Health Policy and the Consequences for Pregnant Women

12:46 pm in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Marge Berer for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

Republished with permission from Reproductive Health Matters.

“There is only one way to be sure a woman’s life is at risk, that is, after she dies.” — Christian Fiala, 2012

 

A view of Galway Hospital and parking lot

Savita Halappanavar died at Galway University Hospital.

In 1987, the year the first Safe Motherhood Initiative was launched by the World Health Organization (WHO), there were more than half a million maternal deaths annually. The women who were dying were often anonymous and their deaths never recorded or studied. They were mainly from poor and often rural backgrounds in developing countries, such as India. A study in India published in 1999 comparing 100 maternal deaths in a Rajasthan hospital in 1983-85 to 100 in 1994-96 found that: “Most of the women who died in hospital in 1994-96 would have died at home in the earlier decade.”1 What had changed was that they had reached a hospital and were therefore no longer anonymous, but they were still overwhelmingly women living in poverty with little or no access to skilled pregnancy and delivery care. 

Contrast this with the death of Savita Halappanavar on 28 October 2012, a dentist from a privileged background in India, who miscarried 17 weeks into a very wanted pregnancy and died in the maternity ward of a hospital in Ireland, a country with a very low maternal death ratio.2 Savita’s death was anything but anonymous; her name and photograph circled the globe within days of her death and sparked street demonstrations and protests, not only across Ireland but also in many other parts of Europe and in India. Six weeks later, articles and blogs about her death continued to be published in many countries, demands by her husband for a maternal death audit were headline news, and the Irish government has been forced to consider the effects of her death for the law, health policy and the Constitution of Ireland. 

Savita’s death became iconic for a number of reasons. First, preventing maternal deaths has been a global priority since 1987 when the first WHO Safe Motherhood Initiative was launched. Since 2000, reducing maternal deaths by 75 percent by 2014 has been the main target of Millennium Development Goal No.5, and since 2010 it has been one of five main goals of the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon’s Global Strategy on Women’s and Children’s Health. Hence, maternal deaths have started to be a news item globally, with journals like Reproductive Health Matters carrying studies and the media in many countries where deaths remain frequent, reporting successes and failures to reduce deaths, and individual stories regularly.

Secondly, holding governments accountable for their failure to provide the required services, both antenatal and delivery care and emergency obstetric care, to prevent avoidable maternal deaths has become the subject of public protests by women’s rights advocates, of court cases, including in India, and of hearings by human rights bodies, particularly CEDAW, examining individual cases and making policy recommendations to governments.3

What was different about Savita’s death, however, was the fact that it was also about whether and when to terminate a pregnancy when it is not viable and the woman’s health and life are at risk, and how that intersected in Savita’s case with individual health professionals’ interpretation of Catholic health policy and the law on abortion in Ireland. 

As a committee of the Irish Parliament considers proposals to offer limited legal abortion in Ireland, this paper explores how these issues came together around Savita’s death, the interpretation of Catholic health policy and the consequences for pregnant women.

Preventing maternal deaths as global policy

Maternal deaths, especially in countries where they remain frequent, are getting more and more media coverage. The Millennium Development Goals have made countries with continuing high maternal mortality ratios4 conscious of their shortcomings, and civil society organizations are beginning to pursue justice and even compensation in individual cases. 

In India, for example, a petition for legal redress was filed in the Delhi High Court in the case of Shanti Devi, who died in childbirth in January 2010 after two high-risk pregnancies in which she received delayed and insufficient care. With the first of these two pregnancies, she fell down the stairs and afterwards could no longer feel the baby moving. Induction of the pregnancy was delayed until she required intensive care which, when she finally received it, was inadequate. With her health still very precarious, she became pregnant again six months later, went into labor prematurely at seven months, delivered the baby at home without a skilled birth attendant or any medical assistance, and within an hour after delivery, began hemorrhaging and died. This case ensured that the Court took into account not just the individual death but also the constitutional and human rights obligations of the central government of India.5

Some communities where women are at high risk because of the lack of routine and emergency obstetric care are also beginning to protest against maternal deaths. One such event took place in Uganda where, in May 2011, hundreds of concerned citizens and health professionals stormed the Constitutional Court in Kampala, Uganda, protesting the deaths of women in childbirth, in support of a coalition of activists who took out a landmark lawsuit against the government over two women who bled to death giving birth unattended in hospital.6

Another example from India comes from Barwani district, Madhya Pradesh, India, where there were local protests against 27 maternal deaths in the period from April to November 2010. In January 2011, an NGO fact-finding team found an absence of antenatal care despite high levels of anemia, absence of skilled birth attendants, failure to carry out emergency obstetric care in obvious cases of need, and referrals that never resulted in treatment.7

Events like these are making the governments concerned highly sensitive to criticism. As an upper middle-class woman, Savita Halappanavar would have been highly unlikely to die in India from the appalling treatment experienced by Shanti Devi or the tribal women in Barwani. Yet, ironically, the Indian government was among the first to criticism those in Ireland who failed to prevent Savita from dying. For example, India’s ambassador to Ireland said that Mrs Halappanavar may be alive if she had been treated in India.

Emergency obstetric care, termination of non-viable pregnancies and Savita’s death

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New Study Shows Anti-Choice Policies Leading to Widespread Arrests of and Forced Interventions on Pregnant Women

2:47 pm in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Lynn Paltrow and Jeanne Flavin for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

Read additional 2013 coverage on the personhood of women here.

The full table of contents for Volume 38, No. 2, of the Journal of Health Politics, Policy, and Law can be found here. Articles in this edition will be available for public access for a full month here.

Pregnant woman

A new study cites hundreds of instances where pregnancy cost women their constitutional rights.

On Tuesday, January 15th, the Journal of Health Politics, Policy and Law will publish our study, “Arrests of and Forced Interventions on Pregnant Women in the United States, 1973-2005: Implications for Women’s Legal Status and Public Health.” This study makes clear that post-Roe anti-choice and “pro-life” measures are being used to do more than limit access to abortion; they are providing the basis for arresting women, locking them up, and forcing them to submit to medical interventions, including surgery. The cases documented in our study through 2005, as well as more recent cases, make clear that 40 years after Roe v. Wade was decided, far more is at stake than abortion or women’s reproductive rights. Pregnant women face attacks on virtually every right associated with constitutional personhood, including the very basic right to physical liberty.

Our study identified 413 criminal and civil cases involving the arrests, detentions, and equivalent deprivations of pregnant women’s physical liberty that occurred between 1973 (when Roe v. Wade was decided) and 2005. Because many cases are not reported publicly, we know that this is a substantial under count. Furthermore, new data collection indicates that at least 250 such interventions have taken place since 2005.

In almost all of the cases we identified, the arrests and other actions would not have happened but for the fact that the woman was pregnant at the time of the alleged violation of law. And, in almost every case we identified, the person who initiated the action had no direct legal authority for doing so. No state legislature has passed a law that holds women legally liable for the outcome of their pregnancies. No state legislature has passed a law making it a crime for a pregnant woman to continue her pregnancy to term in spite of a drug or alcohol problem. No state has passed a law exempting pregnant women from the protections of the state and federal constitution. And, under Roe v. Wade, abortion remains legal.

Yet, since 1973, many states have passed feticide measures and laws restricting access to safe abortion care that, like so-called “personhood” measures, encourage state actors to treat eggs, embryos, and fetuses as if they are legally separate from the pregnant woman. We found that these laws have been used as the basis for a disturbing range of punitive state actions in every region of the country and against women of every race, though disproportionately against women in the South, low-income women and African-American women.

Women have been arrested while still pregnant, taken straight from the hospital in handcuffs, and sometimes shackled around the waist and at the ankles. Pregnant women have been held under house arrest and incarcerated in jails and prisons. Pregnant women have been held in locked psychiatric wards, as well as in hospitals and in drug treatment programs under 24-hour guard. They have been forced to undergo intimate medical exams and blood transfusions over their religious objections. Women have been forced to submit to cesarean surgery. They have been arrested shortly after giving birth while dressed only in hospital gowns. And, despite claims by some anti-choice activists that women themselves will not be arrested if abortion is re-criminalized, women who have ended their pregnancies and had abortions are already being arrested.

Consider the following:

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