Pregnancy Justice Op Ed in San Francisco Chronicle

Pregnancy Justice Op Ed in San Francisco Chronicle

January 22, 2007

Friday, January 19, 2007 (SF Chronicle)
On the Anniversary of Roe vs. Wade/Creating a true 'culture of life'
Lynn M. Paltrow

For the past 10 years, the term "culture of life" has been little more than window dressing for the hundreds of laws that limit access to abortion -- or advance the interests of fetuses, as if they existed separately from the pregnant women who carry them. The time has come to have a real conversation about what our country could be doing to support maternal, fetal and familial health, and to value motherhood and child rearing.

Our lawmakers' consideration of more than 600 abortion-related bills a year creates the illusion that the only aspect of pregnancy that needs attention is abortion. In reality, however, far too many pregnant and birthing women lack access to the kind of care, support and critical
information they need.

In the best-case scenario, our lawmakers could enact a universal health-care program -- ending this country's status as the only industrialized nation without one. While they were in the business of
valuing life, they would pass a comprehensive family and medical leave insurance program that would provide paid leave to a new mother to care for her child.

Or they could start small. Here's just one suggestion for how they could shift their priorities from creating ever greater barriers to abortion services to ensuring maternal and fetal health.

Our lawmakers pump an incredible amount of funding into pregnancy "crisis centers" whose primary purpose is to deter women from having abortions -- despite the fact that staff have been documented providing false and misleading information. At the same time, drug treatment programs for pregnant and parenting women in many parts of the United States lack the funding they need to stay open or to meet the pressing demands for their services. Increasingly, women with untreated drug or alcohol problems are being targeted for arrests based on the claim that pregnant women can be considered child abusers even before they have given birth. This is happening even though every leading medical organization to address this issue -- including the American Medical Association and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists -- has concluded that the problem of alcohol and drug use during pregnancy is a health issue best addressed through education and community-based family treatment, not through the criminal justice system. It's happening even though threat-based approaches have been shown to deter pregnant women -- not from using drugs, but rather from seeking prenatal care and what little drug-and-alcohol treatment may be available to them.

Despite this, a low-income pregnant drug-using woman in Amarillo, Texas, who would have several pregnancy crisis centers to choose from -- would find that there is not a single drug treatment program that provides careto pregnant and parenting women within 100 miles. Which means that her best option for avoiding arrest would be having an abortion.

What if our lawmakers swapped their priorities? What if they de-funded pregnancy crisis centers, whose only real purpose is to advance an ideological agenda, and acted to make drug treatment as readily available an option? If we come together, as a large, vocal and united constituency, we can advocate for policies that genuinely support maternal health and well being and create a true culture of life -- one that values the women who give that life.

Lynn M. Paltrow is the executive director of National Advocates for Women, which is hosting the "2007 Summit to Ensure the Health and Humanity of Pregnant and Birthing Women" this weekend in Atlanta.
Copyright 2007 SF Chronicle