Commentary Law and Policy

Personhood USA’s Unhinged Response to National Advocates for Pregnant Women Study

Imani Gandy

There’s an old saying: A hit dog will holler. That phrase came to mind as I read Personhood USA’s unhinged response to the new study conducted by Lynn Paltrow of National Advocates for Pregnant Women and Professor Jeanne Flavin of Fordham University. Never mind the facts, Personhood USA makes up its own.

There’s an old saying: A hit dog will holler. That phrase came to mind as I read Personhood USA’s unhinged response to the new study conducted by Lynn Paltrow of National Advocates for Pregnant Women (NAPW) and Professor Jeanne Flavin of Fordham University.

The NAPW study found hundreds of cases in which pregnant women were arrested, detained, or otherwise deprived of personal liberty, as a result of the “passage of feticide measures and laws restricting access to safe abortion care that, like so-called ‘personhood’ measures, encourage state actors to treat eggs, embryos, and fetuses as if they are legally separate from the pregnant woman.” Since the conclusion of the study in 2005, approximately 250 more cases have been discovered.

The cases are horrific, ranging from women who were forced to have C-sections against their will (and died as a result); to women who were imprisoned to prevent them from having an abortion; to a woman who was jailed until her lawyers were able to prove that her miscarriage resulted from medication given to her by her doctor; to a woman who wanted to have her birth attended by a midwife, but was taken to a hospital by the sheriff’s department pursuant to a court order, and forced to undergo involuntary testing and medical treatment.

The study was comprehensive and damning, and Personhood USA’s press release in response is classic. Unable to argue with the data, science, and facts painstakingly detailed in the study, Jennifer Mason founders in a sea of personal attacks and logical fallacies. Mason cannot attack the study itself, so she cries bias and attacks the study’s authors, and resorts to the sort of paint-by-numbers emotional rhetoric that has become de rigeuer for the anti-choice movement:

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[T]o Lynn Paltrow and the National Advocates for Pregnant Women, babies are little more than human garbage. Far from being true advocates for pregnant women, the NAPW seeks to dehumanize the baby, the very human being whose existence makes his or her mother a pregnant woman. The devaluing of human life is a disservice to mother and child.

“Human garbage” seems a tad over-the-top, but Mason is on a roll:

The personhood of the child in the womb is dangerous to groups like NAPW because they seem to believe that there is NO case in which a woman should be prosecuted for endangering her child in the womb, and there is NO restriction on abortion that is permissible. Our wealthy enemies – Planned Parenthood, NOW, NARAL, and NAPW – will not suffer any regulations or restrictions, including those well-intentioned restrictions to make clinics “safer”. With a zero-tolerance policy for any abortion restriction whatsoever, of course personhood is loathed by these adversaries of human life, and made into a scapegoat.

Personhood USA’s “wealthy enemies” and “adversaries of human life” are three women’s rights organizations that seek to improve the health and welfare of all women, whether pregnant or not. But according to Personhood USA, groups like NAPW and NARAL are coming for your family, aborting everything and everyone in their path.

Mason’s outrage continues when she discusses Amanda Kimbrough’s case (which I wrote about at length here):

While there are certainly clear cases of violations of mother’s rights, there are also very clear cases where a woman intentionally harmed herself, thus harming her child. Recently, the Alabama case of Amanda Kimbrough made headlines. Kimbrough admitted to smoking crystal meth three days before her baby, Timmy, was delivered at 25 weeks. After his birth, he lived for only nineteen minutes before dying of methamphetamine exposure. Should there not be a voice for Timmy? Should the state ignore his death instead of seeking justice?

The issue in the Kimbrough case, of course, is not whether the state should ignore Timmy’s death, but whether Amanda was properly prosecuted under a law that the legislature intended to prosecute people who let their kids hang out in meth labs. But never mind that. Amanda admitted to smoking crystal meth. Someone must pay for Timmy’s death. 

Mason and Personhood USA obviously don’t think much of vulnerable women like Amanda, and view them as incubators to be tossed into prison after a baby is plucked out and can live on its own. Mason and Personhood USA certainly don’t hold NAPW in high regard since, according to them, NAPW has taken some “unrepentant vow to protect the rights of ‘drug-using’ women.”

Exactly when and where NAPW has ever expressed such a sentiment remains a mystery, since Mason doesn’t say. I suppose backing up statements with citations or, perhaps, a link or two, is much less compelling than pretending that the sole purpose of NAPW is to champion the rights of women to use drugs and willfully turn their kids into drug addicts:

As a woman in my child-bearing years, of course I have a vested interest in assuring that all women, including myself, retain civil rights during pregnancy. So I took a deeper look at the report, titled “Arrests of and Forced Interventions on Pregnant Women in the United States”, which was published this week in the Journal of Health Politics, Policy, and Law. I did a little reading on the NAPW website before I began, and I was unpleasantly surprised by an unrepentant vow to protect the rights of “drug-using women”, going on to assert that “you cannot have a culture of life if you do not value the women who give that life” (or death, apparently).

Unsurprisingly, NAPW’s website reveals a much less nefarious purpose:

  • to protect the rights and human dignity of all women, particularly pregnant and parenting women and those who are most vulnerable including low income women, women of color, and drug-using women, 
  • to ensure that women do not lose their constitutional and human rights as a result of pregnancy; 
  • to ensure that addiction and other health and welfare problems they face during pregnancy are addressed as health issues, not as crimes;
  • to ensure that families are not needlessly separated, based on medical misinformation; and 
  • to ensure that pregnant and parenting women have access to a full range of reproductive health services, as well as non-punitive drug treatment services.

How awful of them.

Mason, of course, ignores NAPW’s actual mission because it does not support Personhood USA’s bogeyman narrative. After all, if NAPW treats babies like “human garbage,” its study can be ignored, even if the study contains accurate information—a fact which Mason seems loath to concede:

Is the information in this study correct? Possibly. The treatment of the pregnant women outlined here in many cases is horrendous, and the actual data may be correct. But the findings and conclusion are so far off base, and so based on personal bias, that it makes the study nearly impossible to take seriously.

Sure, the information might be right, but NAPW is trying to murder your baby! Look over there!

Ultimately, nothing in Personhood USA’s press release addresses the concerns raised by the NAPW study or offers any solution that will protect women, both pregnant and not. And the bitter irony here is that Personhood USA’s position is actually an anti-life position, not a pro-life one. Women in Alabama now have a perverse incentive to terminate their pregnancies in order to avoid arrest and possible imprisonment—even if they want to carry those pregnancies to term—a point that Personhood USA ignores in its rush to champion the almighty fetus.

News Abortion

Idaho Directs Pregnant People to Fake Clinics for Free Ultrasounds

Nicole Knight

The state health department doesn't screen the providers, which "gives the false impression that this is a vetted list …when it’s actually not," as Hannah Brass Greer, Idaho legislative director of Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest and Hawaii, told Rewire.

Idaho’s health department is now sending patients seeking abortion care to fake clinics, also known as crisis pregnancy centers, thanks to a new Republican-backed law promoting free ultrasound providers.

The law, HB 516, amends an existing statute to require the state Department of Health and Welfare to compile a list of providers of free ultrasounds. The agency must also let pregnant people know they have the “right to view an ultrasound image and hear heart tone monitoring.”

The health department, however, doesn’t screen the providers, which “gives the false impression that this is a vetted list …when it’s actually not,” as Hannah Brass Greer, Idaho legislative director of Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest and Hawaii, told Rewire.

Getting included on the list simply requires contacting the health department, and all of the 11 providers now on it are anti-abortion facilities. As Brandi Swindell, CEO of Stanton Healthcare, which has two clinics on the list, told the Associated Press, “I’m 100 percent pro-life.”

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When Rewire reached Sherry Bushnell at A Blessed Beginning, which is also included on the health department’s list, she said they actually don’t provide free ultrasounds right now because their ultrasound facility is “under construction.” She said they refer clients to Life Choices, in nearby Sandpoint, Idaho.

Like most anti-choice clinics, A Blessed Beginning espouses unscientific claims about the psychological risks of abortion care. Its website warns that abortion causes everything from eating disorders to suicidal thoughts, although peer-reviewed studies have found no link between abortion care and depressionanxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder.

The health department issued the list August 1, and it includes facility names, addresses, contact information, and hours. One of the clinics is actually in Washington state, not Idaho. Planned Parenthood isn’t included because it does not offer free ultrasounds, though representatives from the organization told Rewire it does offer financial assistance to those in need.

Buried at the bottom of the four-page list is a small disclaimer that says, in part:

This information is not intended to constitute medical advice or the provision of medical services …. The Department of Health and Welfare does not inspect, certify, or endorse any of the providers listed and cannot be held liable for the action(s) of said providers.

“Adding that language was a way to let people know that we’re not saying this is going to be a great ultrasound experience,” health department spokesperson Niki Forbing-Orr told the Associated Press. “There’s no registry for this type of equipment in Idaho. Anyone can own and operate one.”

As Rewire previously reported, one of the clinics on the health department list is directly connected to Rep. Vito Barbieri (R-Dalton Gardens), who voted in favor of the legislation. In 2014, Barbieri was president of the board of directors of Open Arms PCC and Real Choices Clinic, which is included on the health department’s list.

News Abortion

Texas Pro-Choice Advocates Push Back Against State’s Anti-Choice Pamphlet

Teddy Wilson

The “A Woman’s Right to Know” pamphlet, published by the state, has not been updated since 2003. The pamphlet includes the medically dubious link between abortion care and breast cancer, among other medical inaccuracies common in anti-choice literature.

Reproductive rights advocates are calling for changes to information forced on pregnant people seeking abortion services, thanks to a Texas mandate.

Texas lawmakers passed the Texas Woman’s Right to Know Act in 2003, which requires abortion providers to inform pregnant people of the medical risks associated with abortion care, as well as the probable gestational age of the fetus and the medical risks of carrying a pregnancy to term.

The “A Woman’s Right to Know” pamphlet, published by the state, has not been updated or revised since it was first made public in 2003. The pamphlet includes the medically dubious link between abortion care and breast cancer, among other medical inaccuracies common in anti-choice literature. 

The Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) in June published a revised draft version of the pamphlet. The draft version of “A Woman’s Right to Know” was published online, and proposed revisions are available for public comment until Friday.

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John Seago, spokesperson for the anti-choice Texas Right to Life, told KUT that the pamphlet was created so pregnant people have accurate information before they consent to receiving abortion care.

“This is a booklet that’s not going to be put in the hands of experts, it’s not going to be put in the hands of OB-GYNs or scientists–it’s going to be put in the hands of women who will range in education, will range in background, and we want this booklet to be user-friendly enough that anyone can read this booklet and be informed,” he said.

Reproductive rights advocates charge that the information in the pamphlet presented an anti-abortion bias and includes factually incorrect information.

More than 34 percent of the information found in the previous version of the state’s “A Woman’s Right to Know” pamphlet was medically inaccurate, according to a study by a Rutgers University research team.

State lawmakers and activists held a press conference Wednesday outside the DSHS offices in Austin and delivered nearly 5,000 Texans’ comments to the agency.  

Kryston Skinner, an organizer with the Texas Equal Access Fund, spoke during the press conference about her experience having an abortion in Texas, and how the state-mandated pamphlet made her feel stigmatized.

Skinner told Rewire that the pamphlet “causes fear” in pregnant people who are unaware that the pamphlet is rife with misinformation. “It’s obviously a deterrent,” Skinner said. “There is no other reason for the state to force a medical professional to provide misinformation to their patients.”

State Rep. Donna Howard (D-Austin) said in a statement that the pamphlet is the “latest shameful example” of Texas lawmakers playing politics with reproductive health care. “As a former registered nurse, I find it outrageous that the state requires health professionals to provide misleading and coercive information to patients,” Howard said.

Howard, vice chair of the Texas House Women’s Health Caucus, vowed to propose legislation that would rid the booklet of its many inaccuracies if DSHS fails to take the thousands of comments into account, according to the Austin Chronicle

Lawmakers in several states have passed laws mandating that states provide written materials to pregnant people seeking abortion services. These so-called informed consent laws often require that the material include inaccurate or misleading information pushed by legislators and organizations that oppose legal abortion care. 

The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) sent a letter to DSHS that said the organization has “significant concerns with some of the material and how it is presented.”

Among the most controversial statements made in the pamphlet is the claim that “doctors and scientists are actively studying the complex biology of breast cancer to understand whether abortion may affect the risk of breast cancer.”

Texas Right to Life said in a statement that the organization wants the DSHS include “stronger language” about the supposed correlation between abortion and breast cancer. The organization wants the pamphlet to explicitly cite “the numerous studies that indicate undergoing an elective abortion contributes to the incidence of breast cancer in women.”

Rep. Sarah Davis (R-West University Place) said in a statement that the state should provide the “most accurate science available” to pregnant people seeking an abortion. “As a breast cancer survivor, I am disappointed that DSHS has published revisions to the ‘A Woman’s Right to Know’ booklet that remain scientifically and medically inaccurate,” Davis said.

The link between abortion and cancer has been repeatedly debunked by scientific research.

“Scientific research studies have not found a cause-and-effect relationship between abortion and breast cancer,” according to the American Cancer Society.

A report by the National Cancer Institute explains, “having an abortion or miscarriage does not increase a woman’s subsequent risk of developing breast cancer.”

DSHS spokesperson Carrie Williams told the Texas Tribune that the original booklet was written by a group of agency officials, legislators and public health and medical professionals.

“We carefully considered medical and scientific information when updating the draft booklet,” Williams said.

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