National Advocates for Pregnant Women

Today I missed one hell of an opportunity: I was invited, along with several other feminist bloggers and activists (and cheers to Melissa from A Womb of Her Own for asking them to extend the invitiation my way), to partipate in a conference call with Lynn Paltrow, the executive director of National Advocates for Pregnant Woman, aka NAPW. Unfortunately, my class on shoulder dystocia ran late, and I wasn’t able to join the call in time. Nevertheless, something needs to be said about Lynn Paltrow and NAPW. This is an oganization that seems truly committed to starting up a sincere dialogue on the inequalities, challenges and legal barriers that are placed in front of women—and in particular pregnant women—that prevent them from accessing the help they need and deserve. And not just “opening up a dialogue” in the politically-correct sense that looks good on a mission statement, but an honest, open, all-encompassing debate that encourages women, lawmakers and organizations to move beyond the pro-this/ anti-that polarity. And not just “inequalities” in the abstract sense, but a real examination of the socioeconomic, racial, educational, sexual and gender unfairness that every woman on this planet has to deal with every day (to quote Shannon from Egotistical Whining, who was able to attend the conference call: “I’m just saying it’s not super difficult to include people of color in your political movement.”) It seems like this is an organization that doesn’t dwell on whether or not a woman should be allowed to have an abortion (although NAPW has a pretty strong opinion on that, I’d wager), but on the social circumstances which lead women to seek abortions in the first place, or to carry unplanned pregnancies to term. This is an organization that asks “how” instead of “why”, taking the punitive blame off of the woman, and turning the microscope onto the world she lives in which forces such choices to be made.

We live in a scary, scary world right now. I was looking over some of the articles Lynn Paltrow has written or commented on, such as Blaming Pregnant Women, The Pregnancy Police Are Watching You, The Rights of “Unborn Children” and the Value of Pregnant Women and Do Pregnant Women Have Rights? , and I was shocked, not to mention frightened, by how far current and proposed laws have gone at eroding the civil liberties of women. While the Unborn Victims of Violence Act was blinking somewhere on my radar, it was mostly framed in terms of what this meant for abortion rights, without taking in the larger picture. I had no idea things had gotten so bad (guess I need to be reading The Mommy Blawg more often, huh?). These articles talk about cases where women have been forced to undergo surgery against their will; where women have been jailed as criminals for “murdering” their children through drug use; where fetal rights have been found to trump the rights of the living, breathing women who are “housing” them…women who used to be entitled to their own personal freedom and life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness…until they got pregnant, that is. Granted, these cases are rare, and seem like aberrations rather than the norm, but in a legal system that is built on precedent, even a single case can yield terrifying future implications.

As Melissa from A Womb of Her Own rightly pointed out, though, this goes beyond the abortion debate. This isn’t even remotely about abortion any more. This is about women losing their voice, their rights, their power. And this is about a system that seeks to punish individual women, isntead of asking: why do so many women turn to drugs? How can we help them with that? Why do so many women live in fear for their lives? Surely it’s not just because abuse is a pattern, and some women “just keep dating the wrong guys”, like it’s her fault for choosing such a poor partner, instead of his fault for beating her in the first place? Why do so many women live in poverty? Why do so many of these women happen to be brown or black? Why is the health of a fetus more important than the health of the mother? And if we’re so concerned with the pain of the fetus that we’re now requiring doctors to counsel women about it before performing abortions after 22 weeks, why are we so unconcerned about invasive procedures during pregnancy that hurt the fetus, or circumcision, or children living in poverty and neglect?

Hummm. I bet some of these questions were addressed in the conference call that I missed. *sniff* However, the good news is: NAPW is hosting a summit in January, and we’re in the process of putting together another conference call or interactive chat with Lynn Paltrow and NAPW for midwives, student midwives and doulas. Because, let’s face it: this is something we should be more than just up-to-date on. This is something we should be razor-sharp-cutting-edge on, because as midwives, these aren’t just abstract questions to us, but the lives and choices and challenges of the women we’re taking care of every day.

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