Women and Children's Health Takes a Back Seat to Advancing Fetal Rights

By Christine Cupaiuolo — April 23, 2007

Another response worth noting to the Supreme Court decision handed down last week is Lynn Paltrow’s commentary on The American Prospect website: “Miscarriage of Justice”

Paltrow, an attorney and executive director of National Advocates for Pregnant Women, discusses the implications for all pregnant women:

If the government can choose to advance fetal interests over the pregnant woman’s health in the context of abortion, why can’t so-called “fetal rights” prevail in the context of birth?

In fact, this argument is already being used to justify court-ordered Cesarean sections in cases where physicians believe that a c-section will prove more beneficial to the fetus (this despite the fact that c-sections constitute major surgery and pose increased health risks to the pregnant woman and in some cases the fetus as well). True, most courts so far rule that such interventions unconstitutionally strip women of their civil and human rights, including bodily integrity, informed medical decision-making, liberty, and, in one case, life itself. In that case, later reversed by an appellate court, both the woman and her baby died after a forced c-section ordered to protect fetal life.

But at least one federal court has said that sending police to a woman’s home, taking her into custody while in active labor and near delivery, strapping her legs together and her body down to transport her against her will to a hospital, and then forcing her, without access to counsel or court review to undergo major surgery constituted no violation of her civil rights at all. The rationale? If the state can limit women’s access to abortions after viability, it can subject her to the lesser state intrusion of insisting on one method of delivery over another.

Paltrow later adds:

My worry is that this case not only marks a significant attack on the rights and health of all pregnant women, it also reinforces government policies that value human life only when it involves limiting women’s access to reproductive health care.

In short, the Court’s decision in Gonzales v. Carhart — and Bush’s professed support for it — reinforces the sense, once again, that only the unborn deserve protection in this country. Not by ensuring universal health care, paid maternity leave, or an end to workplace pregnancy discrimination — only by restricting pregnant women’s access to health care.

One need only look at yesterday’s New York Times for a very clear example of how misguided health priorities and ideology are affecting the health of women and children — Erik Eckholm reports that infant mortality is on the rise in Mississippi and neighboring states after years of decline.

Here is one of the most damning excerpts that reveals the government’s short-sightedness:

Poverty has climbed in Mississippi in recent years, and things are tougher in other ways for poor women, with cuts in cash welfare and changes in the medical safety net.

In 2004, Gov. Haley Barbour came to office promising not to raise taxes and to cut Medicaid. Face-to-face meetings were required for annual re-enrollment in Medicaid and CHIP, the children’s health insurance program; locations and hours for enrollment changed, and documentation requirements became more stringent.

As a result, the number of non-elderly people, mainly children, covered by the Medicaid and CHIP programs declined by 54,000 in the 2005 and 2006 fiscal years. According to the Mississippi Health Advocacy Program in Jackson, some eligible pregnant women were deterred by the new procedures from enrolling.

One former Medicaid official, Maria Morris, who resigned last year as head of an office that informed the public about eligibility, said that under the Barbour administration, her program was severely curtailed.

“The philosophy was to reduce the rolls and our activities were contrary to that policy,” she said.

Read the full story here.

One response to “Women and Children’s Health Takes a Back Seat to Advancing Fetal Rights”

  1. I read this article in the NYT, and I was appalled. Not so much by the infant mortality etc. I was appalled by the fact that 22 year olds are on their third or forth baby. It is so depressing. It seems as if all these women know how to do is have babies.

    We talk about eradicating poverty. It will never happen until women have full access to contraception and control the amount of children they bare. As well as finishing high school and getting further training. Attitudes need to change before poverty ends.

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