“Planned Parenthood believes that everyone — no matter who they are, where they live, or how much money they have — deserves access to the safest, highest quality health care available without barriers due to cost, stigma, restrictive state laws, or any other reason.
“No one should fear arrest or jail for seeking health care. No one should be punished for having a miscarriage, an abortion, or for any other pregnancy outcome.
“As a leading health care provider and advocate for women, Planned Parenthood believes that pregnancy outcomes and a woman’s mental health during pregnancy are health issues, not matters for the criminal justice system. Yet despite recent political rhetoric, we know that laws are being used to punish women who have or try to have abortions — and the arrests in these cases disproportionately affect low-income women and women of color.
“Rather than arresting, prosecuting, and imprisoning women, we need to work to reduce stigma around abortion and miscarriage, and to ensure that everyone has access to quality, compassionate health care when they need it.”
Purvi Patel is a woman from Indiana who was sentenced to serve 20 years in prison on charges of feticide and neglect of a dependent, although she maintained that she had a miscarriage and there was no trace of abortifacients found in her blood.
Responding to pregnancy outcomes through the criminal justice system is dangerous and counterproductive. The terrible result of the criminal approach to abortion is demonstrated in countries throughout the world where abortion is illegal. In El Salvador, where abortion is illegal under all circumstances, women are investigated and jailed for having abortions and miscarriages. The extreme penalties for pregnancy complications – many unrelated to abortion – have led people, especially poor women, to avoid medical care.
All major U.S. public health and medical organizations have taken an unequivocal stance against criminal and other coercive responses to pregnancy and its outcomes:
The American Medical Association (AMA) rejected any role for state coercion of pregnant women, including the use of criminal sanctions.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) also opposes criminal prosecutions of pregnant women, calling the use of legal sanctions to attempt to guarantee healthy birth outcomes “morally dubious.”
The American Nurses Association, too, opposes punitive responses: “[t]he threat of criminal prosecution is counterproductive in that it prevents many women from seeking prenatal care and treatment.”
These positions are informed by the understanding that the threat of arrest and imprisonment deters people from getting the health care they need. When criminal laws are misused to punish women in relation to their own pregnancies, the ramifications are enormous. The threat of such prosecutions creates fear and stigma that can deter pregnant women from getting the health care they need and impede those who do seek care from speaking honestly with their health care providers.
These prosecutions also have a disproportionate impact on communities of color, immigrant communities, and low-income communities, who are already disproportionately subject to law enforcement surveillance, arrest, and punishment. The penalties imposed – arrest, imprisonment, and family separation – create negative health and social consequences for women and their families.
As a leading health care provider and advocate for women’s rights, Planned Parenthood opposes these prosecutions, which are inextricably linked to systemic obstacles including but not limited to restrictions on safe, legal and timely abortion; prenatal care; mental health care; support for children, and access to private clinicians.
Planned Parenthood is the nation's leading provider and advocate of high-quality, affordable health care for women, men, and young people, as well as the nation's largest provider of sex education. With approximately 700 health centers across the country, Planned Parenthood organizations serve all patients with care and compassion, with respect and without judgment. Through health centers, programs in schools and communities, and online resources, Planned Parenthood is a trusted source of reliable health information that allows people to make informed health decisions. We do all this because we care passionately about helping people lead healthier lives.
July 23, 2016