National Advocates for Pregnant Women (NAPW) is a non-profit organization that works to secure the human and civil rights, health and welfare of all people, focusing particularly on pregnant and parenting women, and those who are most likely to be targeted for state control and punishment - low income women, women of color, and drug-using women.
NAPW seeks to ensure that:
- no one is punished for the outcome of their pregnancies whether they have an abortion, experience a pregnancy loss, or go to term and give birth to a baby;
- no one loses their constitutional and human rights as a result of pregnancy;
- addiction and other health and welfare problems people face during pregnancy are addressed as health issues, not as crimes;
- families are not needlessly separated based on medical misinformation; and
- pregnant and parenting people have access to a full range of reproductive health care as well as access to confidential, non-punitive drug treatment services.
NAPW protects the rights, health, and dignity of pregnant and parenting people by:
- providing pro bono (free) legal assistance to people directly or to their defense attorneys if the person is threatened or charged with a crime or child welfare action for having an abortion, giving birth, being pregnant or experiencing a pregnancy loss;
- organizing with state based activists and organization as well as national coalitions;
- engaging in public education on paper, online, and anywhere people might listen!
Women's Rights and Human Dignity
NAPW seeks 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. NAPW uses the lessons learned from the experiences of these women to find more effective ways of advancing reproductive and human rights for all women and families. Our work encompasses legal advocacy; local and national organizing; public policy development, and public education. NAPW is actively involved in ongoing court challenges to punitive reproductive health and drug policies and provides litigation support in cases across the country. NAPW engages in local and national organizing and public education efforts among the diverse communities that are stakeholders in these issues, including the women and families directly affected by punitive policies, as well as public health and policy leaders.
By focusing on the rights of all pregnant women, whether they seek to have an abortion or go to term , NAPW is broadening and strengthening the Reproductive Justice and other progressive movements. NAPW recognizes that 61% of women who have abortions are already mothers and 84% of women by the time they are in their 40's have become pregnant and given birth. We believe that you cannot have a culture of life if you do not value the women who give that life.
For many years, the pro-choice movement has been criticized for its overwhelming focus on abortion issues and for failing to be more inclusive. Abortion is the defining women’s rights issue for many women because the ability or inability to control pregnancy means the difference between full participation in society or not. But for poor women and women of color, the ability to end a pregnancy is most likely not the factor that determines their ability to be full and equal participants in our society. Rather, for them, salient issues include the ability to access health care and to have the opportunity to bring children into the world that they can love, support, and raise in a safe environment. Moreover, more and more women are finding that they are denied informed decision-making in the context of birth and need to be fully part of the Reproductive Justice movement. Thus, there are many groups of women who are allied but for whom the right to an abortion is not the key to their reproductive and human rights.
By choosing to focus on pregnant women and the full range of attacks on their rights – including the efforts to establish separate legal rights for fertilized eggs, embryos, and fetuses under the law, to hold women criminally liable for the outcome of their pregnancies, and to expand the drug war to women's wombs, NAPW is making new allies and building new strength from a broad based and integrated approach to reproductive and human rights.
Full Citizenry: An Unfinished Project
For women in the United States, achieving the status of full citizen is an unfinished project. In the last century, important gains have been made on behalf of women's rights. Yet, under current Supreme Court precedent, discrimination on the basis of pregnancy is not prohibited "sex" discrimination under the Fourteenth Amendment. This is, by no means, the sole explanation for continuing discrimination against women. It is, however, a significant and little acknowledged fact that provides legal and political grounds for government institutions, employers, and health care providers to discriminate against women and limit their participation in society as full and equal citizens.
A few examples:
While it is generally recognized that people have a right to bodily integrity and the right to procreate, women face an array of restrictions on their reproductive decision-making, from restriction on access to abortion services, to restrictions on alternative birthing practices to a wide variety of health and welfare policies that devalue and undermine motherhood for some women, including low income and women of color.
Although it is generally accepted that adults can decide what medical treatment they will or will not have - once a woman becomes pregnant others may be able to make that decision for her. Angela Carder was forced, against her will, to undergo surgery because it was believed it would help her fetus; in fact, it failed to save the fetus and contributed to her death. Pregnant women may be punished for informed refusal of HIV treatment and are often denied recommended forms of drug treatment. And, while many states now permit adults to determine whether and what treatment they will accept if they become critically ill or incompetent, some states exclude pregnant women from this right of self-determination.
Employers in some high-paying industrial jobs have told fertile women that they need not apply, claiming that these were fetal protection policies. Other employers have simply told women holding minimum wage jobs that they would lose their jobs if they became pregnant.
America's Drug Policy
Some of the starkest examples of the consequences of denying women full human rights involve the direct and severe punishment of pregnant, drug-using women. By combining claims of fetal rights with the war on drugs, new laws that punish pregnant women and families are being put into place. There is a consensus in the medical community that addiction is a public health issue and that treating drug use in pregnancy as a crime undermines the health of both women and children. Yet fetal rights advocates have convinced police, prosecutors, and judges to treat addiction as a form of abuse or neglect without regard for parenting ability. Like other applications of the war on drugs, the punishment of pregnant women is targeted at vulnerable, low-income, women of color; those with the least access to health care or legal defense.
In the last twenty years, over 200 pregnant women or new mothers have been arrested in a concerted effort to deny women liberty. At least nineteen states now address the issue of pregnant women's drug use in their civil child neglect laws, and many of these states make it possible to remove a child from the mother based on nothing more than a single positive drug test. These cases and statutes are having a devastating effect on public health efforts, as well as women's reproductive rights, drug policy reform efforts, and efforts for racial equality.
Promoting Positive Change
NAPW is the only organization that consistently communicates with both women's rights and drug policy advocates, reaching out, as well, to progressive leaders and activists at both the local and national level. NAPW works to protect and advance reproductive liberty and the rights of women through:
- Litigation and litigation support challenging efforts to establish fetal rights under the law and to expand the war on drugs
- Public education and a national clearinghouse that provides lawyers, activists, policy-makers, organizers and the media with essential information on case law, legislation, and social science data regarding the war on abortion and the war on drugs
- Grassroots organizing supporting a model state-based program and working with women directly affected by punitive policies, sponsoring self-advocacy trainings, providing information and support, and working ensure that their voices are heard.