Despite national and international developments that make many of us feel less than hopeful, Pregnancy Justice has had a number of victories that remind us of the need to celebrate the accomplishments we have had.
Here are some achievements that make clear that positive change is possible.
Victory in the US Supreme Court
As many of you now know, in June the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Texas laws at issue in Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt. Pregnancy Justice's amicus brief, filed on behalf of 14 diverse organizations, added to the chorus of voices challenging the lie that the Texas laws protected women's lives and health. We are so relieved by the Supreme Court's decision; one that will in fact protect women's lives and, we hope, increase access to abortion services.
However, lessons learned in the years following the Supreme Court's decisions in Roe and Casey remind us that if we focus only on access to services, we will lose ground on the fundamental questions of personhood:
Are pregnant women full constitutional persons with equal rights to dignity and health care? Or do they remain in some intermediate category of persons whose rights are subject to unique legal tests and constant challenges based on claims of rights for fertilized eggs?
Pregnancy Justice is committed to the long fight for full personhood for all people with the capacity for pregnancy -- whether they seek to end a pregnancy or go to term.
Victory in the Indiana Court of Appeals
As you may recall, in 2013, Purvi Patel was arrested and charged with two crimes, neglect of a dependent and feticide, stemming from her efforts to have a safe abortion with medication at home. In 2014 she was convicted of both and sentenced to 20 years in prison. Pregnancy Justice worked with Ms. Patel's defense counsel and numerous state-based, national, and international allies to challenge the charges and the conviction.
On July 22, 2016 a unanimous panel of the Court of Appeals of Indiana overturned Patel's feticide conviction, ruling that this law may not be misused to punish women who have abortions. This decision respects the Indiana General Assembly's clear intent to use the feticide law as a mechanism for punishing people who harm pregnant women. The decision is consistent with those from other states addressing similar issues and it follows widely held public opinion that women who have abortions should not be locked up.
In addressing the other charge, neglect of a dependent, the Court viewed itself as bound by the jury's factual findings, including the dubious conclusions that Ms. Patel had delivered a live infant and was aware of it. The Court, however, overturned her conviction for "neglect of a dependent leading to death", a Class A Felony, holding that the State had failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Patel's actions caused the death of the newborn. Nevertheless, the Court held that the State had presented sufficient evidence for a jury to find that Ms. Patel committed the lesser Class D Felony of endangering a dependent by failing to seek emergency assistance after the delivery. The Court made this finding despite the fact that, even if there had been a live birth, there was no evidence that Patel knowingly or intentionally withheld medical care.
A Class D Felony has a maximum sentence of 3 years in prison. Ms. Patel has already been incarcerated for a year and four months; if the State does not appeal she could be released in as few as 1-3 months.
Pregnancy Justice is proud to have helped bring Ms. Patel much closer to freedom, to have disrupted the Feticide Playbook, and to have an opinion that reinforces the fact that neglect of dependent laws apply to children, not to pregnant women in relationship to the eggs, embryos, and fetuses inside of them. Pregnancy Justice will continue to challenge attempts to punish women for seeking safe home abortions and will work to ensure that neglect of a dependent laws are not used as backdoor mechanisms for punishing women who have abortions or experience pregnancy losses. (Something that happens all too often in other countries where abortion is criminalized.)
Victory in the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals
On May 27, 2016, the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia overturned Stephanie Louk's conviction for the crime of "child neglect resulting in death." Like many of the cases Pregnancy Justice works on, this one involved a prosecutor's attempt to punish a woman who could not guarantee a healthy birth outcome. The indictment charged Ms. Louk with being pregnant, ingesting methamphetamine and then suffering a cardiac arrest, allegedly resulting in the death of her child 10 days after Ms. Louk had undergone cesarean surgery to deliver her baby. Following a two-day jury trial, Ms. Louk was convicted and sentenced to three to fifteen years in prison.
Pregnancy Justice filed an amicus curiae brief on behalf of 54 West Virginia and national experts in maternal and infant health. This brief was referenced at the appellate hearing and in the final decision, demonstrating how seriously the court took the concerns raised by medical and public health experts. The court specifically acknowledged Pregnancy Justice's counsel on the case, Farah Diaz-Tello and each of the amici who Pregnancy Justice represented in this case specifically noting, "We value their contributions to this case and have considered their brief in conjunction with the parties' arguments."
The court overturned the conviction, concluding that the law was not intended by the legislature to punish women in relationship to their own pregnancies. In reaching its decision the Court acknowledged that people engage in many actions and inactions during pregnancy that could lead to pregnancy losses and quoted from the American Medical Association policy cited in amicus brief explaining how threats of arrest actually undermine health by deterring women from care.
We are being heard.
Victories in Arkansas
Earlier this year, the Arkansas Supreme Court reversed the conviction of Melissa McCann Arms, concluding that the state's "introduction of a controlled substance into the body of another person" statute could not be used to punish women who become pregnant and go to term despite having used some amount of a controlled substance. Ms. Arms had been convicted of this crime and was incarcerated at the time of the appeal. Pregnancy Justice is happy to report that, while it took more than 100 days following the decision to win Ms. Arm's actual release from incarceration, she is no longer behind bars. And as a result of this decision, at least three other women convicted under the same gross misuse of the law have been, or will soon be, released from prison.
Also in Arkansas, Pregnancy Justice helped to win a directed verdict in the prosecution of Anne Bynum. Local law enforcement alleged that Ms. Bynum took pills to induce an abortion; according to news reports, her pregnancy ended a couple of days later with the delivery of a stillborn fetus. Investigators say that several hours after that she went to the hospital for help, and brought the fetal remains with her. Ms. Bynum was arrested five days later on charges of "concealing a birth" and "abuse of a corpse."
With the help of Pregnancy Justice Staff Attorney Lisa Sangoi, Ms. Bynum succeeded in persuading a trial court judge to issue a directed verdict finding that Ms. Bynum was not guilty of the more serious charge, abuse of a corpse, which carried a potential 10-year sentence. Pregnancy Justice is working on an appeal of her conviction for concealing a birth. In the meantime, we helped to win her release from incarceration pending the appeal.
Victory in Tennessee
In 2014, an amendment to Tennessee's "fetal assault" law, SB 1391, went into effect over the strong opposition of numerous state-based and national public health and reproductive justice organizations. The law made it possible to punish pregnant women and new mothers for fetal assault if a newborn experiences an in utero injury that could be ascribed to 'unlawful' acts or omission during pregnancy. SB 1391's proponents claimed that the law's one and only purpose was to encourage pregnant women who engaged in illegal use of narcotics to obtain drug treatment.
Pregnancy Justice, with the National Perinatal Association, Healthy and Free Tennessee,SisterReach and many other national and state-based allies carried out a major Tennessee-based national conference, worked with investigative journalists and produced numerous fact sheets and commentaries to expose this law's failure to advance maternal, fetal, and child health.
As a result, on July 1, 2016 the Tennessee legislature allowed the law to "sunset" - go out of effect - freeing pregnant women in the state to seek help for drug dependency problems without fear of arrest for the first time in two years.
Victories in Alabama
Pregnancy Justice inspired and assisted with major investigative news reports revealing how this cruel law has resulted in the arrest of hundreds of women. These reports - along with Pregnancy Justice's ongoing work with women, their local legal counsel, and state based and national organizations - have resulted in:
- Formation of a Task Force to examine the law as rewritten and expanded by the state Supreme Court;
- Legislation making clear that women who become pregnant and require prescription medications that are controlled substances may not be arrested;
- Charges being dismissed against such women as Katie Darovitz with assistance from Pregnancy Justice Staff Attorney Laura Hecht-Felella, local counsel, andPatients Out of Time (a national advocacy group for medical cannabis patients).
Pregnancy Justice is committed to continuing the fight in Alabama to address the hundreds of other women who have been arrested, charged, and often convicted under this dangerous and punitive law.
Another step forward in Tammy Loertscher's case in Wisconsin
For a second time, a federal district court rejected efforts to have Tammy Loertscher's challenge to the Wisconsin Unborn Child Protection Law dismissed. As a result, Pregnancy Justice and co-counsel can continue our efforts to stop a Wisconsin law that assigns lawyers to fetuses and permits the state to subject pregnant women who use any amount of alcohol or a controlled substance to forced treatment or jail. Watch this short video to learn what this law does to pregnant women.
More than 140 organizations joined Pregnancy Justice's Declaration to the UN General Assembly
For the 2016 U.N. General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on Drugs, Pregnancy Justice is proud to have organized 145 US and international organizations working toward gender equality to join a declaration calling on the international community to end punitive drug policies that threaten the rights, health, and wellbeing of women, children, and families. To learn more about this effort please go to https://www.ungasswomen2016.com/
There is more, but these highlights remind us that victories are possible and your support matters. Thank you for all of your support.