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 Politics

Trump Adviser and Possible Vice President Pick: ‘Women Have To Be Able to Choose’

Ally Boguhn

During an interview Sunday, Retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn said when asked about his stance on abortion that women "are the ones that have to make the decision because they’re the ones that are going to decide to bring up that child or not.”

Retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, an adviser to Donald Trump who is also rumored to be a contender to join the presumptive Republican nominee’s ticket as vice president, said that women should “be able to choose” abortion during an interview on Sunday before backpedaling the next day.

“I think women have to be able to choose,” Flynn—a registered Democrat who is being vetted as a vice presidential contender, according to NBC News—said during an interview on ABC’s This Week when asked about his stance on abortion by Martha Raddatz. “They are the ones that have to make the decision because they’re the ones that are going to decide to bring up that child or not.”

In the same interview, Flynn also suggested that marriage equality was something “people [do] in their private lives.”

“These are not big issues that our country is dealing with that will cause our country to collapse,” Flynn went on, adding that he is “more concerned that our country could collapse because we are not dealing with education issues, immigration issues.”

Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the national anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony List, swiftly condemned the retired general, claiming Flynn’s comments had “disqualified himself from consideration as Vice President” in a Sunday statement, according to USA Today. “His pro-abortion position is unacceptable and would undermine the pro-life policy commitments that Mr. Trump has made throughout the campaign.”

The next day, Flynn walked back his seeming support for abortion rights, telling Fox News that he is in fact a “pro-life Democrat.”

“This pro-choice issue is a legal issue that should be decided by the courts. I believe in law. If people want to change the law, they should vote so that we can appoint pro-life judges. I believe the law should be changed,” Flynn told the network on Monday, referring to Roe v. Wade.

Flynn’s comments on ABC had given the retired general sizable distance from the Republican Party’s stance on abortion. The party’s platform in 2012 was stringently anti-choice, calling for a “human life amendment to the Constitution,” or a so-called personhood amendment, which could criminalize abortion and ban many forms of contraception. Though Trump has previously claimed he would change the party’s platform to include exceptions on abortion bans, CNN’s Tal Kopan reported Monday that the 2016 platform draft shared with the outlet “does not include language about such exceptions” and “does not diverge strongly … from the 2012 position on abortion, saying that unborn children are protected by the Constitution and decrying abortion.”

Trump is expected to announce his pick for vice president ahead of next week’s Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio.

News Abortion

Texas Posts ‘A Woman’s Right to Know’ Pamphlet for Public Comment

Teddy Wilson

The draft version of "A Woman's Right to Know" was published online Tuesday, just a day after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled two provisions of the state’s omnibus anti-choice law are unconstitutional.

The Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) quietly published a draft version of a pamphlet the state mandates physicians provide to pregnant people seeking abortion care.  

The draft version of “A Woman’s Right to Know” was published online Tuesday, just a day after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled two provisions of the state’s omnibus anti-choice law, HB 2, are unconstitutional.

There appear to be only minor changes to the previous version of the pamphlet.

The most significant change is an update stating that medication abortion can be prescribed “up to 70 days” from the pregnant person’s last menstrual period, in accordance with revised federal regulations.

The proposed revisions are available for public comment until Friday, July 29.

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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.

The previous version of the state’s “A Woman’s Right to Know” pamphlet contained 34.45 percent medically inaccurate statements, according to a study by a research team from Rutgers University.

The draft pamphlet notes that there is a “greater risk of dying from the abortion procedure and having serious complications the further along you are in your pregnancy.” The pamphlet cites a study, published in 2004 in Obstetrics & Gynecology, which examined abortion statistics from 1972 to 1997. Not apparent in the pamphlet is the researchers’ conclusion, which stated that “increased access to surgical and nonsurgical abortion services may increase the proportion of abortions performed at lower-risk, early gestational ages and help further decrease deaths.”

Moreover, a 2012 study found that abortion is “markedly safer than childbirth.” The study found that the risk of death from carrying a pregnancy to term “is approximately 14 times higher than that with abortion.”

There has been only one death related to abortion complications in Texas since 2008, according to the most recently available DSHS statistics.

The draft pamphlet does not explicitly make the claim that having an abortion causes breast cancer, a claim that is often made by anti-choice activists. However, the pamphlet states that “doctors and scientists are actively studying the complex biology of breast cancer to understand whether abortion may affect the risk of breast cancer.”

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 also explains, “having an abortion or miscarriage does not increase a woman’s subsequent risk of developing breast cancer.”