NAPW: National Advocates for [Some] Pregnant Women


Yesterday I wrote about the efforts of natural childbirth advocates, lactivists, and attachment parenting advocates to police women’s bodies through pregnancy and the early childhood years.

Surely, I thought, there must be a women’s organization that defends against this attempt to control pregnant women’s bodies, and there is. There’s just one problem. They’re only interested in protecting women who make approved choices and — surprise! — the only approved choices are those championed by NCB advocates, lactivists, and attachment parents.

The organization is called National Advocates for Pregnant Women (NAPW), but they ought to include an asterisk in their name. They don’t advocate for all pregnant women, just a small subset.

NAPW describes themselves as follows:

National Advocates for Pregnant Women (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.

Consider their page devoted to birth issues: unhappy with your maternity care? unhappy with your C-section? committed to breastfeeding? They’ve got your back.

Denied a maternal request C-section? Forced to sign a waiver simply because you don’t want to breastfeed? Fuggedaboutit!

NAPW was front and center in the defense of the Florida woman who wanted to postponed by several days her medically indicated semi-emergent C-section for fetal distress.

NAPW has sent a letter to the hospital explaining that the threat of arrest lacks justification in both law and medical ethics. Farah Diaz-Tello, NAPW Staff Attorney explained, “Women do not lose their rights to medical decision making, bodily integrity and physical liberty upon becoming pregnant or at any stage of pregnancy, labor or delivery.”

Sounds to me like the right to medical decision making would include maternal request C-sections. But that’s not what you find when you search the site. The only reference to maternal request C-section (cavalierly referred to as C-section “on demand”) is this mention from 2006:

…organizations concerned about unnecessary and potentially risky c-sections, including NAPW, will be closely watching this week when the National Institutes of Health state-of-the-science holds its conference on ‘cesarean delivery by maternal request.’

So let’s see if I get this straight. An organization that supports a women’s rights to refuse C-section, citing the right to of women to control their own bodies, is staunchly opposed to women’s right to request a C-section, ignoring the right of women to control their own bodies. They have a word for that stance: hypocrisy.

If I understand NAPW correctly, they believe that women have the right to weigh the risks and benefits to themselves and their children of medically indicated C-sections, but somehow are incapable of weighing the risks and benefits to themselves and their children of maternal request C-section. And that, of course, makes no sense.

If NAPW is so concerned about the right of women to control their own bodies, why aren’t they front and center in opposition to new rules banning elective delivery before 39 weeks? Surely if a woman has a right to control her own body, she has a right to control how long she wishes to be pregnant. Surely if a women has a right to bring an abortion, which is the termination of a pregnancy before viability, she must have a right to terminate a pregnancy that will result in a healthy, live baby.

Surely if a woman has a right to control her own body, she should not be forced to sign waivers attesting to the superiority of breastfeeding when she chooses not to breastfeed. How is that any different from the many different hoops anti-choice forces want to impose on women seeking abortion?

The ultimate irony is that NAPW supports women in their choice to use recreational drugs during pregnancy:

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… 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.

So if I understand NAPW correctly, they will fight for your right to use heroin while pregnant, but if you want to have a maternal request C-section to preserve your pelvic floor, you’re on your own.

Women do have a right to control their own bodies and that right extends not merely NAPW approved choices (having an abortion, refusing a C-section, or using heroin during pregnancy). It extends to ALL choices whether the women in NAPW would choose the same things for themselves or not.

NAPW is inappropriately named. They don’t advocate for pregnant women. They only advocate for pregnant women who make choices they approve, and that is hypocrisy of the worst kind.