Dear Friends and Allies,
The Biden-Harris victory reflects massive organizing efforts and leadership, especially by Black women. The occasion also marks the election of the first — but not the last — Vice President who is a woman, Black, of South Asian descent, and the daughter of immigrants. Despite these vital and historic accomplishments, the civil and human rights of women and all those with the capacity for pregnancy remain far from secure.
The Biden-Harris victory doesn’t change the fact that Amy Coney Barrett, an outspoken opponent of abortion and committed defender of a “right to life from fertilization,” now sits on the US Supreme Court. Nor does it change the existing systems of mass criminalization and “child protection” that are used to police, surveil, and control pregnant women, new mothers, and families.
NAPW needs your support to continue our fight against the criminalization of pregnancy that is already flourishing in the current criminal law system, which disproportionately targets Black, Brown, and poor white people. NAPW needs your support to continue our reproductive justice-informed criminal defense work for those who have already been arrested. And, we need your help to continue our power-building organizing and education work that recognizes that all people with the capacity for pregnancy have reasons to unite and fight for reproductive justice and against claims of separate rights for fertilized eggs, embryos, and fetuses.
No one should be locked up for any outcome of a pregnancy.
While Amy Coney Barrett’s large family (five children by birth and two by adoption) was treated as a qualification for her appointment to the US Supreme Court, poor white, Black, and Brown mothers with multiple children are described as irresponsible and dangerous. For example, Chelsea Becker has been locked up in California’s Kings County jail since last November, charged with murder for having experienced a stillbirth and held on $2 million bail. According to the prosecutor, her impossibly high bail should not be reduced because she “poses an unreasonable risk to victims and the community.” The risk she poses? If released, this mother of three might become pregnant again.
We think this claim is outrageous, and we hope you do too. Having children does not endanger a community. Locking up mothers and breaking up families does.
With your support, we will continue our work to free Ms. Becker and another California woman, Adora Perez, who were both charged with murder because they experienced pregnancy losses that were blamed (without scientific basis) on drug use. Cases involving murder charges for stillbirths are being used to create legal precedent for treating women who have abortions as murderers. As I pointed out in “Criminalizing a Constitutional Right” in The New York Review of Books, “The road to arresting women for having abortions is being paved by the cases involving pregnant women and drug use.”
Please support NAPW so we can stop arrests, overturn convictions, and challenge a cultural and legal environment that seeks to radically redefine birth, pregnancy loss, abortion, and infant mortality as crimes.
In Missouri, Roberta Baker was arrested for giving birth at home to a premature baby boy who died 26 hours later. Ms. Baker was arrested and, after a bench trial (before a judge, not a jury), she was convicted of felony child neglect. As a matter of law, the judge was only supposed to consider what happened during the 26 hours after the birth. Nevertheless, the court allowed the prosecutor to present evidence of Ms. Baker’s thoughts, feelings and actions during her pregnancy and to use that information to find her guilty. With NAPW’s help, an appellate court not only overturned the conviction but also clarified that Ms. Baker could not “be criminally responsible for having birthed” her son.
We celebrate the legal victory, but this chilling clarification reminds us that we are living in dangerous times.
That danger includes the normalization of obstetric violence and the dehumanization of pregnant patients. For example, in New York, Staten Island University Hospital (SIUH), part of the largest health system in the region — Northwell Health — is taking positions we would expect from Catholic hospitals and anti-abortion extremists. SIUH forced Rinat Dray to undergo cesarean surgery — stripping her of her right to privacy, physical liberty, bodily integrity, and medical decision- making; damaging her bladder; and causing her lasting trauma. In one of their latest court filings, Northwell’s SIUH argues that they must be allowed to override pregnant patients’ medical decisions because to do otherwise could “deprive ... viable, unborn fetuses of their right to live.”
We need your support to hold Northwell accountable and ensure that pregnancy is never an excuse to deny patients their fundamental rights.
We also need your help to ensure that police, prosecutors, judges, and policymakers face scientific facts. Challenging medical misinformation about pregnancy, drugs and drug dependency as well as racist tropes about people who use criminalized drugs has been a defining feature of NAPW’s work from the beginning.
Please support our education and organizing efforts that challenge drug war propaganda, misinformation about the degree of control humans have over the outcome of their pregnancies, and the racism at the root of arrests and punitive child welfare actions in this country.
Your support will also help us defeat so-called fetal personhood measures that distract attention from real personhood movements such as Black Lives Matter.
No matter who is on the Supreme Court or how it rules, women will get pregnant, experience pregnancy losses, give birth, and take action to end their pregnancies. NAPW will be there to protect them from being locked up for doing so. NAPW will be there to help harness the collective strength of their actions into a mass movement for civil and human rights that no Supreme Court decision can stop.
Lynn M. Paltrow
Founder and Executive Director