Mama's Got a Plan:

Maternity Care, Health Insurance, and Reproductive Justice

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Life begins … when?

Many have been known to ask when life begins, in an attempt to establish boundaries for policy issues connected with female reproduction. We wonder whether that question can possibly give a sufficiently definitive answer to guide us in our quest. If it can’t, we might do better to turn to some other defining scheme – such as the wishes of the mother whose body stands between the world and the baby-to-be.

life begins … when?, slide1

Explanations and Attributions

The spherical building welcoming the sperm is in real life the “Kugelmugel,” a micronation located in Vienna.

The clock radio photo, by Chrissy Wainwright, is titled “It’s Too Early!” It is shared here under a Creative Commons license.

The dugout photo demonstrating implantation is by Christian Bickel, described as “Speisekammern in Keldur” (food chamber – probably storage – in Keldur). It shows an example of an Icelandic turf house.

The photo representing red menstrual waters is by Derek Harper, entitled “Red Sea at Babbacombe.” It is shared here under a Creative Commons license.

The pink building shown in Frame 4 is, of course, the Jackson Women’s Health Organization, in Jackson Mississippi, where the awe-inspiring Dr. Willie Parker practices.

The court cases mentioned on Page 2 are quite well-known and easily found online, should you wish to read the opinions. No cases are mentioned for the criminalization of pregnancy (Frame 4), but a visit to National Advocates for Pregnant Women will tell you all you need to know.

The adorable baby with doting mama were captured by Bonnie U. Gruenberg. The photo is shared here under a Creative Commons license.

The orange chair and other clipart were taken from

The statue shown in Frame 4 on Page 2 is of unknown origin, although several photos of it can be found online, including here, where it is suggested the statue depicts (biblical) Rachel weeping for her children.

The police officer and the representation of the Big Bang are shared here under a Creative Commons license.


Updated November 2, 2017, to fix a typographical error.


Breastfeeding article posted on MSU bioethics blog

In Murphy’s Breast: Lactation Law and Advocacy in 2014, I discuss four instances in which breastfeeding parents found themselves affected by law and advocacy efforts last year. Many thanks to Michigan State University’s Center for Ethics and Humanities in the Life Sciences for inviting me to write this piece.

Special bonus for Mama’s Got a Plan readers: A fifth section of the post that had to be cut to meet length requirements is included below.  More is more!

 Section 2.5. The Sleeping Breast: We Really Think You Shouldn’t!

Public health recommendations have unwittingly discouraged breastfeeding by insisting on separating parents and babies during sleep, based on incomplete and sometimes outright faulty evidence. While maintaining breastfeeding depends on mothers’ ability to feed babies at night, the practice of bedsharing, common throughout the world, is discouraged in the U.S. for fear that sleeping parents will accidentally suffocate their babies. Many public health initiatives focus on procuring safety-rated cribs for newborns.

Proponents of bedsharing – and breastfeeding – have long held that while babies should sleep apart under certain conditions, such as having an impaired parent or one who smokes, in most cases infant safety increases when infants sleep in close proximity to their breastfeeding mothers, on an appropriate surface. The supposedly higher rate of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) attributed to bedsharing has been discredited by the presence of co-founding variables. Breastfeeding is believed to be protective against SIDS and, of course, in many other ways beneficial to infant health.

Evidence now shows that recommendations for separate infant sleep have actually harmed infant health. Parents who try to heed warnings to avoid bedsharing are more likely to fall asleep on couches or padded chairs with their infants; those surfaces are dangerous to infants, because babies may become trapped between their parents and padded crevices of the furniture.

How curious then that policy makers continue to emphasize “Safe Sleep” policies that equate deterrence from bedsharing with increased infant safety. Michigan went so far as to enact legislation that compels hospitals to advise new parents on infant sleep practices. To be fair, the law itself does not include a warning against bedsharing. It delegates the power to issue recommendations to the Michigan Department of Community Health – that persists in its prescription that babies sleep by themselves, on their back, without any items in their cribs. The law, having created additional liability for hospitals that fail to distribute safe sleep materials to their patients, excuses hospitals from such liability if they retain a “signed parent acknowledgment statement” of having received such materials.

You can read the article in its entirety here.