THE BLOG
04/30/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Do People Who Support "Traditional Values" Value Pregnant Women?

I have to thank Andrea Lafferty, of the Traditional Values Coalition for her response to a piece I wrote opposing Personhood USA's efforts to give full constitutional rights to the unborn from the moment of fertilization. In her commentary she hopes to discredit my organization, National Advocates for Pregnant Women (NAPW) by exposing our commitment to all pregnant women, including those who love their children but are unable to overcome a drug problem in the short term of pregnancy.

Ms. Lafferty argues that NAPW has an "extremist agenda." Specifically she highlights the fact that NAPW "defends drug-addicted women from prosecutions for endangering their unborn babies." Indeed we do, and at least for one reason we would have thought Ms. Lafferty and her Coalition, would approve of: because threatening pregnant women with prosecution creates an incentive for them to have abortions.

Given how hard it is for most people to overcome an addiction problem quickly (just ask Rush Limbaugh) as well as the difficulty of obtaining appropriate treatment (especially for pregnant and parenting women), laws that threaten to punish women who carry their pregnancies to term in spite of a drug problem place substantial pressure on them to get unwanted abortions.

In fact, this kind of prosecution in North Dakota (one of the states where a personhood bill has been introduced) compelled a pregnant woman to have an abortion. In 1992 Martina Greywind, who was approximately twelve weeks pregnant, was arrested. She was charged with reckless endangerment based on the claim that by inhaling paint fumes, she was creating a substantial risk of serious bodily injury or death to a "person" -- her "unborn child." After her arrest, a lawyer for the anti-abortion group Lambs of Christ filed a petition seeking to have the woman's brother, Ken Greywind, appointed her legal guardian. Mr. Greywind explained in court papers "I believe she is contemplating an abortion in order to have the charge of reckless endangerment dismissed."

Ms. Greywind did obtain an abortion. And indeed, the prosecutor dropped the charges citing the fact that she had "terminated her pregnancy."

We admit it. NAPW opposes laws that create an incentive for women to terminate otherwise wanted pregnancies. We would hope that such opposition would provide common ground for NAPW, Ms. Lafferty and her organization.

We would also hope that we could work together to spread the good news about these mothers and their children. Ms. Lafferty says in her comments about NAPW that we defend mothers who "are addicting their unborn babies and subjecting them to extreme risks of mental retardation or death." Ms. Lafferty, like many people, believes that a pregnant woman who uses any amount of an illegal drug - and crack cocaine in particular -- will inevitably harm her "unborn child."

For nearly two decades, the popular press was filled with inaccurate information about the effects of in utero cocaine exposure. Media hype, however, is not the same as scientific evidence. In 2004 leading researchers in the field of prenatal exposure to drugs signed an open letter explaining that these women are not "addicting" their "unborn babies." "Addiction" they wrote "is a technical term that refers to compulsive behavior that continues in spite of adverse consequences. By definition, babies cannot be 'addicted' to crack or anything else."

Moreover, these experts as well as federal courts and leading federal government agencies now confirm that "the phenomena of "'crack babies' . . . is essentially a myth." As the National Institute for Drug Abuse has reported, "Many recall that 'crack babies,' or babies born to mothers who used crack cocaine while pregnant, were at one time written off by many as a lost generation... It was later found that this was a gross exaggeration." And, as the U.S. Sentencing Commission has concluded, "[t]he negative effects of prenatal cocaine exposure are significantly less severe than previously believed" and those negative effects "do not differ from the effects of prenatal exposure to other drugs, both legal and illegal." Most recently the New York Times, relying on actual experts, including the pediatrician featured in this NAPW video, set the record straight with a story entitled "The Epidemic That Wasn't".

So instead of assuming the worst, we could join forces and together oppose punitive approaches that are known to encourage some women to have abortions, and to discourage many more from seeking prenatal care.

NAPW knows that there are not two kinds of women -- those who have abortions and those who have babies. Sixty-one percent of women who have abortions are already mothers, and another 24 percent will go on to become mothers. Over the course of their lives, 85 percent of all women bring life into this world. NAPW advocates for all of them. We don't expect Ms. Lafferty to join us in our work to ensure that women have access to safe legal abortion services, but we do hope she will support our efforts to ensure that women who do want to go to term aren't punished for doing so.