Dear Friends and Allies,
Last week, two monumental things happened: the Supreme Court agreed to hear another abortion case and NAPW celebrated a legal victory for our client, Chelsea Becker, whose murder charge for experiencing a stillbirth was dismissed. Below we explain how these two events are deeply connected and ask for your desperately needed support for NAPW’s work challenging criminalization and dehumanization based on pregnancy.
Lynn M. Paltrow
Founder and Executive Director
National Advocates for Pregnant Women
Supreme Court to Take Up Major Abortion Case
Last week, the Supreme Court agreed to hear a case challenging Mississippi’s 15-week abortion ban, making it poised to significantly narrow, or possibly obliterate, Roe v. Wade. While this is the third abortion case the Supreme Court has decided to hear in five years, this one has disastrous implications that the media coverage has so far ignored. In the first two cases, Whole Women’s Health v. Hellerstedt and June Medical Center v. Gee, Texas and Louisiana sought to defend their abortion restrictions by arguing that they protected “women’s health,” an argument even a conservative Supreme Court didn’t buy. Now, Mississippi is pulling the curtain back and sharing their true intent behind the ban. While continuing to claim that the law “promotes women’s health” they are now admitting that its purpose is also to “protect the unborn.” And as we know at NAPW, “protecting the unborn” is the excuse police, prosecutors, and judges use to deprive pregnant women of their civil and human rights.
Indeed, even with Roe still on the books, police and prosecutors are using criminal law to address pregnancy and its outcomes – abortion, miscarriage, and stillbirth – starting with women of color, poor women, and drug-using women. Roe, however, continues to provide some protection against full-scale criminalization of pregnant people. And criminalization is one of the disastrous consequences of a bad ruling in the Mississippi case that coverage has ignored.
As our study of arrests of pregnant women from 1973 to 2005 revealed, the justification for locking pregnant women up and tying them down for forced medical interventions is based in anti-abortion laws and ideology. Because of our ongoing research, we know that these arrests are accelerating dramatically: from 1973 to 2005, we identified 413 cases; from 2006 to 2020, we have so far identified over 1,000 cases. And the states that pass laws to “promote fetal life” are the most dangerous for pregnant women -- over 80% of the cases we have recorded since 2006 have occurred in states that passed abortion laws just as or more restrictive than Mississippi’s.
Chelsea Becker Case Dismissed
Yet, even in states with good abortion laws, women are being arrested and prosecuted. Last week, in California, NAPW succeeded in getting the murder charge against our client, Chelsea Becker, dismissed. She was charged with murder for experiencing a stillbirth that the prosecutor, without basis, claimed was caused by her drug use. The prosecutor brought this charge even though it is clear that California’s murder of a fetus law was passed for the sole purpose of punishing third parties who attack pregnant women and cause fetal deaths, and despite the fact that the law specifies that it may not be used to punish people who perform abortions, have abortions or do anything else to which the “mother of the fetus” consents.
This victory came only after a 19-month legal battle supported by numerous allies, our client’s refusal to plead guilty to murder for experiencing a stillbirth, and her incarceration for 16 months on outrageously high bail. This victory, however, was based on the court’s conclusion that there was a lack of evidence – not that California’s murder law may not be used to prosecute women who experience pregnancy losses they allegedly caused.
Indeed, the trial judge made a point of saying that because there is no absolute right to abortion, there is no absolute right not to be arrested, prosecuted, and locked up for having an abortion or doing anything that results in a stillbirth. A decision in the Mississippi case further limiting abortion rights or declaring that there is no fundamental right to decide to have an abortion would be, for this judge, as well as numerous prosecutors around the country, the basis for full-on criminalization of any pregnant person who could not or did not continue her pregnancy to term.
While we celebrate the dismissal of Ms. Becker’s case, the judge’s words are a chilling reminder of how much more than abortion is at stake in the upcoming Supreme Court case. And while Ms. Becker is now free, another woman in California, Adora Perez, also prosecuted for murder for experiencing a stillbirth, is currently serving an 11-year sentence. We are working with our partners in California to challenge her conviction and incarceration.
Our ability to defend the rights of our clients relies in part on the fact that Roe v. Wade is still on the books.
DONATE here so that no matter what happens in the Supreme Court, NAPW can continue to fight criminalization – protecting both the liberty to have an abortion and the liberty to be free from arrest, prosecutions and incarceration. We desperately need your support to ensure both.