National Partnership for Women & Families

In the News

NYT Op-Ed: Arrests Show Increasing Threats to 'Personhood of Pregnant Women'

NYT Op-Ed: Arrests Show Increasing Threats to 'Personhood of Pregnant Women'

November 10, 2014 — Antiabortion-rights laws "pose a risk to all pregnant women, including those who want to be pregnant," and "are increasingly being used as the basis for arresting women who have no intention of ending a pregnancy and for preventing women from making their own decisions about how they will give birth," National Advocates for Pregnant Women Executive Director Lynn Paltrow and Jeanne Flavin, president of NAPW's board of directors, write in a New York Times opinion piece.

They describe several such cases, including a pregnant woman in Iowa who was arrested for "'attempted fetal homicide'" after she fell down the stairs and women forced to undergo cesarean sections against their wills.

Paltrow and Flavin add that with the success of Republican abortion-rights opponents "in the midterm elections and the passage of Tennessee's anti-abortion amendment [Amendment 1], we can expect ongoing efforts to ban abortion and advance the 'personhood' rights of fertilized eggs, embryos and fetuses."

They note that the number of "arrests or equivalent actions depriving pregnant women of their physical liberty" is substantial and has spiked in recent years. They identified 413 such cases in a 2013 peer-reviewed study that examined the period from 1973 -- the year Roe v. Wade was decided -- through 2005, and they have found "an additional 380 cases" since then, "with more arrests occurring every week." They add that the "significant increase coincides with what the Guttmacher Institute describes as a 'seismic shift' in the number of states with laws hostile to abortion rights."

Paltrow and Flavin explain, "The principle at the heart of contemporary efforts to end legal abortion is that fertilized eggs, embryos and fetuses are persons or at least have separate rights that must be protected by the state." They note that "[i]n each of the cases [they] identified, this same rationale provided the justification for the deprivation of pregnant women's physical liberty, as well as of the right to medical decision making, medical privacy, bodily integrity and, in one case, the woman's right to life."

They argue that "we need to stop focusing only on the abortion issue and start working to protect the personhood of pregnant women," adding, "These cases, individually and collectively, highlight what is so often missed when the focus is on attacking or defending abortion, namely that all pregnant women are at risk of losing a wide range of fundamental rights that are at the core of constitutional personhood in the United States."

Paltrow and Flavin conclude, "We should be able to work across the spectrum of opinion about abortion to unite in the defense of one basic principle: that at no point in her pregnancy should a woman lose her civil and human rights" (Paltrow/Flavin, New York Times, 11/7).