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


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:

[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.

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  • abigail-edgecliffe-johnson

    Your article is right on, but I’d make one addition.

    You note that –  ‘according to them, NAPW has taken some “unrepentant vow to protect the rights of ‘drug-using’ women.”‘

    Frankly, we should all take that vow. Drug-using women are people too. Their rights matter. The way we treat them paves the way for how we treat all women.

    The prohibitions on drugs change over time (Coca cola used to contain cocaine, marijuana is now legal in some places) and are contingent on place (Opiates are available both in the hospital and on the street). 

    We know that the “crack-baby” epidemic was a media phenomenon, not a medical one, but the policy outcomes of that “epidemic” are echoed in the prosecutions NAPW identifies.  Criminalizing any pregnancy makes all women potential criminals. 

    It isn’t easy to champion the rights of a stigmatized population, but we have a duty to protect even the easiest of targets. 



  • ljean8080

    seen a child born addicted to drugs,do you know what Fas kids go thru?

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=9433650 Sarah ES

      And what about pregnant women who are afraid to get medical attention, and end up making the issue worse, because they are afraid of jail time? Laws like this will have all American women living in fear: exactly what anti-choicers want.

  • jrm83

    No one is saying that drug abuse during pregnancy should be encouraged or that it’s good for the developing fetus.  What they are saying is that criminalizing this behavior doesn’t result in healthier pregnancies.  It encourages women to either terminate a wanted pregnancy or avoid seeking prenatal care to avoid prosecution.  Treating drug abuse and addiction as a medical issue allows women to talk openly with their doctors about their situation and discuss treatment options to help them have healthier pregnancies.  If you want drug addicted women to have healthier babies, then it’s best to treat addiction as a medical condition, not a crime.