Advocates Unite to Oppose Criminalization of Being Pregnant


More than 50 organizations and experts in the fields of medicine, public health, and child welfare asked the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to reject the state’s decision to incarcerate Amber Lovill because she was pregnant.

This fall, Rewire will be running a series on the "criminalization of sex" worldwide, written by a range of domsestic and international authors.  The series will include a focus on criminalizing sexual activity, specific actions in pregnancy, sexual orientation, and HIV transmission.  Lynn’s post today raises some of the issues evident in the trend toward criminalization of sex in the United States and abroad.

Today a group of 52 Texas and national medical, public health, and child welfare experts and advocates filed an amicus curiae (friend-of the-court) brief with the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals in support of Amber Lovill, a woman who was incarcerated because she was pregnant. The brief urges the Court of Criminal Appeals to affirm a lower court decision finding that the State discriminated against Ms. Lovill by incarcerating her because she was a pregnant woman. 

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This case involves Ms. Amber Lovill who became pregnant while she was on probation for a non-violent crime. After successfully serving more than two years of her three-year probation sentence, which included the requirement that she address her drug problem and abstain from drug use, Ms. Lovill experienced a single relapse. Because Ms. Lovill was pregnant, her probation officers departed from normal practice and filed immediately for probation revocation. They contacted the local warrant officer to have Ms. Lovill arrested immediately and incarcerated in the Nueces County Jail.   Probation officers acknowledged that her pregnancy and their alleged concern for the health of Ms. Lovill’s “unborn” child motivated the arrest and imprisonment. 

The amicus brief filed today notes that the State resorts to age-old stereotypes to defend its decision to incarcerate Ms. Lovill. The State attempted to justify her incarceration by arguing that it is “common knowledge” that “pregnancy causes added stress, anxiety, and physical sickness to the expectant mother, which makes it difficult to comply with conditions ofprobation and to maintain the willpower necessary to overcome a drug addiction.” According to this reasoning, pregnancy would also make women unfit to work, continue their education, serve on juries, and perform many other daily tasks. 

The State defended locking Ms. Lovill up in a county jail that provided no drug treatment or specialized health care claiming that doing so would “reduce danger to [the] unborn child” and ensure that “her child,unborn child, can be cared for in an environment where we can have some assurance that it is safe.” 

As a result of the probation revocation, Ms. Lovill spent the duration of her pregnancy in Nueces County Jail, where the Corpus Christi Caller-Times had recently drawn attention to the “squalor” there and describing a pregnant woman forced to sleep on the floor. “Many Texas jails and the Nueces County Jail in particular have a dismal history of failing to provide adequate health care and humane conditions for pregnant women. The incarceration of a pregnant woman is risky for both her and the baby she carries, so the idea that incarcerating a pregnant woman will protect her orher future child is absurd," said Diana Claitor of the Texas Jail Project. 

While the Amici do not endorse the non-medical use of drugs– including alcohol or tobacco – during pregnancy, theses experts and advocates agree that Ms. Lovill’s incarceration is not justified by medical and scientific research and would actually increase danger to the health of pregnant women, mothers and children. “A woman should never be penalized because she is pregnant,” explained Dr. Charles Brown, President of the Texas Association of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

Moreover, as the amicus curaie brief points out, the State’s assumptions about pregnancy and methamphetamine lack scientific basis and are inaccurate with regard to drug treatment. Research shows that pregnant women are especially motivated to address their drug problems and, when they receive treatment addressing their needs, have good outcomes. 

The case is Ex parte Amber Lovill, PD-0401-09.  Lawyers on the brief include Cori Harbour of the Harbour Law Firm in El Paso and Kathrine Jack and Lynn Paltrowof National Advocates for Pregnant Women. The Amicus Curiae brief of these medical, public health and child welfare experts and advocates can be found onthe National Advocates for Pregnant Women’s website:

The ACLU and ACLU of Texas also filed an amicus brief:

Ms. Lovill is represented in her appeal by Brian Miller of Royston, Rayzor, Vickery & Williams, LLP of Corpus Christi.

Groups and individuals signing on the amicus curiae brief are: Texas Association of Obstetricians and Gynecologists; American Society of Addiction Medicine; National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence; Central Texas Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse; National Association of Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counselors (NAADAC); The International Center for Advancement of Addiction Treatment; American Nurses Association; Association of Reproductive Health Professionals; Center for Children of Incarcerated Parents; Center for Gender and Justice; Chicago Legal Advocacy for Incarcerated Mothers; Child Welfare Organizing Project; Connecticut Women’s Consortium; Drug Policy Alliance; Family Justice; Global Lawyers & Physicians; Institute for Health & Recovery; Harm Reduction Coalition; Interfaith Drug Policy Initiative; Law Enforcement Against Prohibition; Law Students for Reproductive Justice; Legal Services for Prisoners with Children; Mills County, Iowa MOMs Off Meth; National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum; National Association of NursePractitioners in Women’s Health (NPWH); National Association of Social Workers; National Association of Social Workers, Oklahoma Chapter; National Associationof Social Workers, Texas Chapter; National Coalition for Child Protection Reform; National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health; National Network forWomen in Prison; National Women’s Health Network;  National Women’s Prison Project, Inc.; The Osborne Association; Physicians for Reproductive Choice and Health; SisterSong Women ofColor Reproductive Health Collective; Texas Jail Project; Women’s Prison Association; Whole Woman’s Health; Howard Brody, MD, PhD, Dir. of Institute for the Medical Humanities, Univ Of TX Medical Branch; Fonda Davis Eyler, PhD; Deborah A. Frank, MD; LeslieHartley Gise, MD; Randy Glassman, MD; C. Ronald Koons, MD, FACP; Anna C. Mastroianni, JD, MPH; Howard Minkoff, MD; Lawrence J. Nelson, PhD, JD; EliReshef, MD; Lois Shepherd , JD; Timothy Thorstenson, Ethicist; Elisa Triffleman, MD.



News Abortion

Pennsylvania’s TRAP Law Could Be the Next to Go Down

Teddy Wilson

The Democrats' bill would repeal language from a measure that targets abortion clinics, forcing them to meet the standards of ambulatory surgical facilities.

A Pennsylvania lawmaker on Wednesday introduced a bill that would repeal a state law requiring abortion clinics to meet the standards of ambulatory surgical facilities (ASF). The bill comes in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling striking down a similar provision in Texas’ anti-choice omnibus law known as HB 2.

A similar so-called targeted regulation of abortion providers (TRAP) law was passed in Pennsylvania in 2011 with bipartisan majorities in both the house and state senate, and was signed into law by former Gov. Tom Corbett (R).

SB 1350, sponsored by Sen. Daylin Leach (D-Montgomery) would repeal language from Act 122 that requires abortion clinics to meet ASF regulations. The text of the bill has not yet been posted on the state’s legislative website.

The bill is co-sponsored by state Sens. Art Haywood (D-Philadelphia), Larry Farnese (D-Philadelphia), and Judy Schwank (D-Berks).

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Leach said in a statement that there has been a “nationwide attack on patients and their doctors,” but that the Supreme Court’s ruling upholds the constitutionally protected right to terminate a pregnancy.

“Abortion is a legal, Constitutionally-protected right that should be available to all women,” Leach said. “Every member of the Pennsylvania General Assembly swore an oath to support, obey and defend the Constitution of the United States, so we must act swiftly to repeal this unconstitutional requirement.”

TRAP laws, which single out abortion clinics and providers and subject them to regulations that are more stringent than those applied to medical clinics, have been passed in several states in recent years.

However, the Supreme Court’s ruling in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt that struck down two of the provisions in HB 2 has already had ramifications on similar laws passed in other states with GOP-held legislatures.

The Supreme Court blocked similar anti-choice laws in Wisconsin and Mississippi, and Alabama’s attorney general announced he would drop an appeal to a legal challenge of a similar law.

News Law and Policy

Texas Could Be Next to Give Police Hate Crime Protections

Teddy Wilson

Police officers have shot and killed 165 people in Texas since the start of 2015. Of those, 35 were Black men, 12 of whom were unarmed. There were 2 officers killed by firearms in Texas in 2015.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) announced Monday that he would ask the state legislature to pass a law classifying acts of violence committed against law enforcement officers as hate crimes, mimicking a similar measure passed by Louisiana lawmaker.

Abbott said in a statement that the proposal is intended to send a message.

“At a time when law enforcement officers increasingly come under assault simply because of the job they hold, Texas must send a resolute message that the State will stand by the men and women who serve and protect our communities,” Abbott said.

Abbott will ask the GOP-held Texas legislature to pass the Police Protection Act during the upcoming 2017 legislative session, which convenes in January. The proposal would extend hate crime protections to law enforcement officers.

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Abbott’s proposal would increase criminal penalties for any crime against a law enforcement officer, regardless of whether or not the crime qualifies as a hate crime. The proposal would create a campaign to “educate young Texans on the value law enforcement officers bring to their communities.”

Abbott’s proposal comes in the wake of a shooting in Dallas that left five police officers dead, and six others injured. Micah Xavier Johnson targeted police officers during a peaceful Black Lives Matter protest, before he was killed by law enforcement.  

Police officers killed at least 1,146 people in the United States in 2015, according to the Guardian’s database The Counted. Police officers have shot and killed 165 people in Texas since the start of 2015. Of those, 35 were Black men, 12 of whom were unarmed, according to the Guardian’s database. There were two officers killed by gunfire in Texas in 2015, according to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund (NLEOMF).

Police in Texas have shot and killed 53 people so far in 2016, per the Guardian‘s database.

The Dallas shooting increased the urgency of calls to increase the penalties for violence against law enforcement.

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) introduced similar legislation in Congress, designed to make killing a police officer a federal crime. Cornyn said in a statement that police officers protect communities and deserve “unparalleled support.”

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) in May signed into law the so-called Blue Lives Matter bill, which amended the state’s hate crime law to include acts of violence against any “law enforcement officer, firefighter, or emergency medical services personnel.”

Proponents of laws creating more penalties for crimes against law enforcement claim these measures are needed because of a growing threat of targeted violence against law enforcement. Data shows that violence against law enforcement has declined to historically low levels, while killings of civilians by police officers have risen dramatically.

Violent attacks on law enforcement officers are lower under President Obama than they have been under the previous four presidential administrations, according to the Washington Post’s analysis of data from the Officers Down Memorial Page.

During the Reagan presidency, there was an average of 101 law enforcement officers intentionally killed per year; during the George H.W. Bush administration, there was an average of 90 police killed per year; during the Clinton years, there was an average of 81 police killings annually; and during George W. Bush’s presidency, there was an average of 72 police killings via stabbings, gunfire, bombings, and vehicular assault per year.

There have been an average of 62 law enforcement officers killed annually during Obama’s seven and a half years in the White House.

The number of Texans who died during the course of an arrest almost doubled from 2005 to 2015, according to an analysis of state data by the Dallas Morning News. The increase in deaths coincided with a 20 percent reduction in the number of arrests statewide.

Matt Simpson, a policy strategist at the ACLU of Texas, told the Dallas Morning News that the number of deaths during arrests in Texas add to the evidence of systemic racism within the justice system.

“We have pretty strong evidence in a variety of ways that the criminal justice system is disproportionate,” Simpson said. “These numbers are unfortunately stark reminders.”