States Have Long Used Laws to Govern and Sometimes Jail Pregnant Women / Public News Service

The Conversation/Tennessee News Service Collaboration.

Tennessee’s trigger ban on abortion is slated to go into effect next month, and some experts say the Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe v. Wade could pave the way for more women to be prosecuted for conduct during pregnancy.

University of Tennessee law professor Wendy Bach said state judges previously have used a so-called “fetal assault” law to jail a pregnant person on probation if a court has evidence that they’re using drugs. Bach predicted that the Supreme Court decision opens the doors to state legislatures passing more laws that punish pregnant people, instead of providing help and treatment.

“There’s a woman who was charged for criminal conduct for falling down a fight of stairs,” she said, “so the range of conduct that we are talking about, that prosecutors have decided to charge is significant.”

Bach said the fetal assault statute was not renewed by the Legislature in 2016 and is no longer law. However, she said Tennessee prosecuted and jailed about 120 women between 2014 and 2016 for potentially harming the fetuses they carried by taking narcotics. That’s despite recommendations from the American Medical Association and other groups to create specialized drug-treatment programs during pregnancy rather than incarceration.

Bach said she also is concerned that abortion bans could dissuade people, especially those in Black and Brown communities, from disclosing information to their doctors – or avoiding medical care altogether.

“So, virtually every criminal court file I looked at documenting the fetal assault prosecutions contained information discovered in the medical setting,” she said, “statements women made to their doctors, which their doctors really, really need to know.”

Bach pointed out that a statewide lack of resources for people with substance-use disorders ultimately led to the end of the fetal assault law.

“We have very, very, very few beds to actually care for folks, so I think some of the legislators felt that it wasn’t fair to criminalize the conduct if we couldn’t provide the care,” she said. “And also, some data that came out around women disengaging from care because of the fetal assault law.”

She added that states such as Minnesota, South Dakota and Wisconsin have authorized involuntary commitment, either in medical facilities or jail, of people who use drugs or alcohol during pregnancy.

This story was produced with original reporting from Wendy Bach for The Conversation. Find the original article here.

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Minnesota’s status as a “safe-haven” state was enhanced Monday after a court ruling lifted several abortion restrictions.

The procedure remained legal in Minnesota in spite of the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision to overturn federal protections, but the state still had a number of requirements, including a 24-hour waiting period.

A Ramsey County judge said such rules violated the state’s constitution.

Shayla Walker, executive director of the abortion rights group Our Justice, which was involved in bringing the case forward, called the decision a victory for anyone seeking this type of care.

“It comes at a time when Minnesota’s protections for abortion are essential for people traveling as far as Texas and Missouri to get abortion care here,” Walker pointed out.

Another requirement struck down involved both parents having to be notified before a minor can get an abortion. Opponents were quick to criticize the decision, including the group Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life. It called the judge’s ruling extreme, while arguing the laws were common-sense measures.

Megan Peterson, executive director of the nonprofit Gender Justice, said the ruling aligns with the idea it is not enough just to allow this type of care.

“The court held that the Minnesota constitution protects not just the fundamental right to choose abortion, but also the fundamental right to access abortion care,” Peterson explained.

The fallout from the ruling is spilling over into the race for Minnesota Attorney General. Republican candidate Jim Schultz urged DFL incumbent Keith Ellison to defend the state’s law. Ellison, who was not in support of the restrictions, acknowledged his duties in that regard. He said he’ll review the ruling as part of a 60-day window to file an appeal.

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The legal status of abortion in various states is changing day-to-day with the overturning of Roe v. Wade, but Maine is among those taking action to protect people who may now have to travel to access an abortion.

Gov. Janet Mills this week signed an executive order prohibiting state agencies from cooperating with another state’s investigation into a person, organization or health care provider for delivering abortion care.

Mareisa Weil, vice president of development and community engagement for Maine Family Planning, said abortion clinics throughout the state are already fielding calls from people in abortion-hostile states, inquiring about the possibility of coming to Maine for care.

“We just don’t know yet what the scale of that is going to be,” Weil observed. “Because Maine is a pretty remote state, it’s not the easiest state to get in and out of. So there are some other abortion-friendly states that patients might be able to access a little bit easier in terms of flights and cost of travel. “

Weil added abortion clinics in the last few years have scaled up their telehealth programs, for prescribing abortion pills but also for other aspects of sexual and reproductive care, such as uncomplicated urinary tract infections or birth-control visits.

Weil added MaineCare does cover abortions. Maine Consumers for Affordable Healthcare also has a helpline to answer any questions about insurance coverage at 1-800-965-7476.

“If we do not keep representatives at the Statehouse who are committed to reproductive justice, choice and privacy, we can easily lose the rights that we have fought so hard for here in Maine,” Weil stressed. “People’s civic engagement at this time is extremely important.”

Abortion already is illegal in nine states: Texas, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Missouri, Arkansas, Alabama, Tennessee, Ohio and South Carolina. And in Idaho, Wyoming, North Dakota and Mississippi, it is soon to be illegal.

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In mid-July, several groups will hold an abortion access rally in Minnesota. They include Jewish-led organizations, who say much of their community doesn’t want to see reproductive rights taken away.

Conservative Christians and many of their congregants had long called for the recent dismantling of ‘Roe v. Wade’ by the U.S. Supreme Court.

But Beth Gendler, executive director of Minnesota’s Jewish Community Action, said it’s a different tone across Judaism. Pew Research notes 83% of Jews feel abortion should be legal in all or most cases.

Gendler said it goes back to early writings from their faith that life begins at birth.

“The potential for life that pregnancy affords is of course valuable, and should be protected,” said Gendler. “But when it comes down right down to it, it really is the life of the person who is pregnant that is paramount.”

Opponents from some other faiths believe life begins at conception.

Despite the ruling, abortion remains legal in Minnesota. But the coalition behind the upcoming rally wants more access as neighboring states implement bans, forcing more patients to receive care here.

And they want some current Minnesota restrictions lifted, such as a 24-hour waiting period.

Erica Solomon, executive director of the Minnesota section of the National Council of Jewish Women, added that their belief system strongly prioritizes standing up for marginalized populations.

“This is not just taking care of ourselves and our own,” said Solomon, “but a commitment to not standing idly by while barriers are placing any individual’s autonomy, or health or wellbeing, at risk.”

While groups like hers are speaking out, Soloman added they’re not trying to step on the toes of pro-choice activists who have been doing this work for years.

“I think we are still trying to find our place in the work,” said Solomon, “while definitely making it our goal to be supporting those who have been leading this fight.”

The rally is scheduled for Sunday, July 17 at 11 a.m. in St. Paul.

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