NAPW helps Immigrant Pregnant Woman Win Release from prison

National Association of Pregnant Women assist in the release of pregnant woman from custody

          Dear Friends and Allies:

NAPW is pleased to announce that yesterday morning a federal District Court judge, responding to a motion for bail and our emergency amicus brief, released Quinta Tuleh, a 28 year-old pregnant woman, from federal custody.

Ms. Tuleh, a woman from Cameroon, had already served 114 days in jail for allegedly having false immigration documents. Shortly after her arrest, she learned she was both pregnant and HIV positive. On May 14, 2009, instead of releasing her, a US District Court Judge extended Ms. Tuleh's sentence to ensure that she remain incarcerated for the duration of her pregnancy. (Judge Jails Pregnant Woman Until Baby is Born and Behind Bars for Being Pregnant and HIV-Positive.)

At the sentencing hearing, Judge Woodcock stated: "My obligation is to protect the public from further crimes of the defendant, and that public, it seems to me at this point, should include the child she's carrying...I don't think the transfer of HIV to an unborn child is a crime technically under the law, but it is as direct and as likely as an ongoing assault."

As is often the situation in cases involving pregnant women, Courts make decisions without the benefit of full briefing or input from experts. Indeed, uncertain of Ms. Tuleh's due date and how long he would need to extend the sentence to ensure she was imprisoned through her due date, the Judge looked out over the courtroom and said "So maybe we ought to consult with the women here. Any sense of what a safe range would be?"

Yesterday morning, National Advocates for Pregnant Women, the Center for HIV Law and Policy and attorneys Elizabeth Frankel and Valerie Wright of the Maine firm Verrill Dana, LLP filed an emergency amicus (friend-of-the-court) brief on behalf of 28 public health experts, advocates, and organizations, as well as a declaration from prison health expert Dr. Robert L. Cohen. The brief and expert testimony provided legal and public health information challenging the incarceration of a pregnant woman in order to protect an "innocent" "unborn child."

The judge called the brief "articulate and helpful" during yesterday's hearing where he released Ms. Tuleh on bail pending an appeal of her sentence to the First Circuit Court of Appeals. Ms. Tuleh will now be receiving medical, housing, and other support coordinated by the Frannie Peabody Center, a Portland, Maine community-based HIV resource center. Ms. Tuleh has expressed that she is deeply touched by all of the support she has received. The picture of her yesterday, smiling from ear to ear speaks volumes.

Ms. Tuleh is being represented on her appeal by Zachary L. Heiden of the Maine ACLU.

NAPW and Center for HIV Law and Policy are grateful to Laura McTighe, Director of Project UNSHACKLE, Community HIV/AIDS Mobilization Project (CHAMP), for her extraordinary help in this effort.

Your continued support of NAPW makes this kind of effective, cross issue collaboration possible. Please contribute what you can to NAPW so that we can continue our collaborative and successful advocacy on behalf of all pregnant women.

Yours Truly,
Lynn M. Paltrow
Executive Director
National Advocates for Pregnant Women