Protecting Pregnant Women is Rich Common Ground, the American Life League Disagrees

Lynn Paltrow

The American Life League has attacked us for suggesting that Personhood Measures are a threat to all pregnant women and that opposing them should be common ground. Yet the pro-life women who have been victims of these measures agree with us.

National Advocates for Pregnant Women’s video How Personhood USA & The Bills They Support Will Hurt ALL Pregnant Women and an earlier version making similar points are attracting the attention of anti-abortion organizations who advance Personhood Measures across the country.  These measures would grant “unborn” life, from the moment of fertilization, full personhood status under state constitutional law. Such measures would not only be used as a basis for ending the right to choose an abortion, they would also provide a basis for depriving pregnant women going to term of their rights to liberty, bodily integrity, medical decision-making and even life.

Judie Brown, president and founder of the American Life League (“ALL”), claims in a commentary entitled Life of the Mother or Lies of Big Brother, that our video is a “fairy tale,” and ALL’s video response, Laws, Lies and Videotape, purports to “point out half truths and outright lies” in our work.  Through these efforts ALL intends to provide a defense of Personhood Measures. Instead, what ALL provides is a defense of court orders forcing pregnant women to have cesarean surgery against their will, and the arrest of pregnant women who are not compliant with their doctor’s wishes.

In our video we give four examples of cases in which fetal rights arguments (the kind that would become law if so-called Personhood Measures passed) were used to hurt pregnant women who had no intention of ending their pregnancies. In two of the cases, Laura Pemberton and Angela Carder, were forced to undergo cesarean surgery – denying them the right to liberty, bodily integrity, medical decision making – and in Ms. Carder’s case, life itself. In another case, a court granted the order for forced cesarean surgery, but the pregnant woman, Amber Marlowe, and her husband John fled the hospital before the order could be enforced. In the fourth one, a woman was arrested for homicide because the state claimed her refusal of cesarean surgery two weeks earlier was what caused one of her twins to be stillborn.

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ALL denies that these cases had anything to do with fetal personhood.  Instead, they point to fear of hospital liability, "complex" medical ethics, a misinterpretation of Roe v. Wade, and suggest that pregnant women who are “terminally” ill or seek to go to term in spite of a drug problem, in effect, deserve what they get.

It appears that ALL believes that as long as fetal personhood arguments are used to force pregnant women to undergo unnecessary surgery a) because a hospital fears a law suit, or b) because the court order is somehow consistent with the pregnant woman’s desire to give her their babies the best chance of survival” even if it kills her – National Advocates for Pregnant Women isn’t being fully honest when we say that these arguments hurt “all pregnant women.”

Most pregnant women who oppose unnecessary cesarean surgery do so because they “want to give their babies the best chance of survival.” What the cases we discuss and many others make clear is that if Personhood Measures pass, courts will be empowered to privilege the opinions of hospitals and doctors who say that surgery will give the baby "the best chance of survival” over the informed judgments of the pregnant woman who has concluded that it will do the opposite.

Although current law does not in fact permit courts or prosecutors to substitute their judgment for that of pregnant women, Personhood Measures would change that. These measures would permit courts, as a routine matter: to appoint lawyers for the unborn, to force pregnant women and their families to participate in emergency court hearings, and then to decide for them what is best for the baby.

NAPW responds to each of ALL’s points in our piece, American Life League:  Anti-Abortion “Personhood” Measures Really Will Hurt ALL Pregnant Women. We appreciate the opportunity to demonstrate with even greater detail why it is that organizations committed to advancing a true culture of life, one that values the women who give that life, would join us in opposing Anti-Abortion Personhood Measures.

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