I have to thank Andrea Lafferty, of the Traditional Values
Coalition, for her response
to a piece I wrote opposing
Personhood USA’s efforts to give full constitutional rights to the unborn
from the moment of fertilization.
In her commentary she hopes to discredit my organization, National Advocates for Pregnant
Women (NAPW), by exposing our commitment to all pregnant women, including those who love their
children but are unable to overcome a drug problem in the short term of
Ms. Lafferty argues that NAPW
has an “extremist agenda.” Specifically,
she highlights the fact that NAPW
“defends drug-addicted women from prosecutions for endangering their
unborn babies.” Indeed we do, and at
least for one reason we would have thought Ms. Lafferty and her Coalition,
would approve of: because threatening pregnant women with prosecution creates
an incentive for them to have abortions.
Given how hard it
is for most people to overcome an addiction problem quickly (just ask Rush
Limbaugh) as well as the difficulty of obtaining appropriate treatment
(especially for pregnant and parenting women), laws that threaten to punish
women who carry their pregnancies to term in spite of a drug problem place
substantial pressure on them to get unwanted abortions.
In fact, this kind of prosecution in
North Dakota (one of the states where a personhood bill has been
introduced) compelled a pregnant woman to have an abortion. In 1992 Martina
Greywind, who was approximately twelve weeks pregnant, was arrested. She was charged with reckless
endangerment based on the claim that by inhaling paint fumes, she was creating
a substantial risk of serious bodily injury or death to a “person” — her
“unborn child.” After her arrest, a
lawyer for the anti-abortion group Lambs of Christ filed a petition seeking to
have the woman’s brother, Ken Greywind, appointed her legal guardian. Mr.
Greywind explained in court papers "I believe she is contemplating an
abortion in order to have the charge of reckless endangerment dismissed.”
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Ms. Greywind did obtain an abortion. And indeed, the
prosecutor dropped the charges citing the fact that she had “terminated her
We admit it. NAPW opposes laws that create an
incentive for women to terminate otherwise wanted pregnancies. We would hope
that such opposition would provide common ground for NAPW, Ms. Lafferty and her
We would also hope that we could work together to
spread the good news about these mothers and their children. Ms. Lafferty says
in her comments about NAPW that we defend mothers
who “are addicting their unborn babies and subjecting them to extreme risks of
mental retardation or death.” Ms. Lafferty, like many people, believes
that a pregnant woman who uses any amount of an illegal drug – and crack
cocaine in particular — will inevitably harm her “unborn child.”
For nearly two decades, the popular press was filled
with inaccurate information about the effects of in utero cocaine exposure.
Media hype, however, is not the same as scientific evidence. In 2004 leading researchers
in the field of prenatal exposure to drugs signed an open
letter explaining that these women are not “addicting” their “unborn babies.”
“Addiction” they wrote “is a technical term that refers to compulsive behavior
that continues in spite of adverse consequences. By definition, babies cannot
be ‘addicted’ to crack or anything else.”
Moreover, these experts as well as federal courts and
leading federal government agencies now confirm that “the phenomena of "’crack
babies’ . . . is essentially a myth.” As the National
Institute for Drug Abuse has reported, “Many recall that ‘crack babies,’ or
babies born to mothers who used crack cocaine while pregnant, were at one time
written off by many as a lost generation…
It was later found that this was a gross exaggeration.” And,
as the U.S.
Sentencing Commission has concluded, “[t]he negative effects of prenatal
cocaine exposure are significantly less severe than previously believed” and
those negative effects “do not differ from the effects of prenatal exposure to
other drugs, both legal and illegal.” Most recently the New York Times, relying
on actual experts, including the pediatrician featured in this NAPW video, set the record
straight with a story entitled The Epidemic That
So instead of assuming the worst, we could join
forces and together oppose punitive approaches that are known to encourage some
women to have abortions, and to discourage
many more from seeking prenatal care.
NAPW knows that there are not two kinds of women –
those who have abortions and those who have babies. Sixty-one percent of women
who have abortions are already mothers, and another 24 percent will go on to
become mothers. Over the course of
their lives, 85 percent of all women bring life into this world. NAPW advocates
for all of them. We don’t expect Ms. Lafferty to join us in our work to ensure
that women have access to safe legal abortion services, but we do hope she will
support our efforts to ensure that women who do want to go to term aren’t
punished for doing so.