News Release: Lindesmith Center Files Amicus Curiae Brief in Supreme Court Case Challenging Drug Testing of Pregnant Women 3/03/00

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(press release from The Lindesmith Center, http://www.lindesmith.org)

The Lindesmith Center's Office of Legal Affairs, in conjunction with nearly two dozen medical and public health organizations submitted an amicus ("Friend of the Court") brief to the US Supreme Court in support of plaintiffs in Ferguson v. The City of Charleston.

Ferguson v. The City of Charleston challenges a policy designed and implemented by Charleston, South Carolina law enforcement officials whereby pregnant women who sought obstetrical care at the Medical University of South Carolina ("MUSC") were subjected to unwarranted, non-consensual drug testing designed and used to facilitate the arrest and prosecution of mothers who tested positive for cocaine. (MUSC is a state-funded hospital and the only medical facility in the Charleston area to treat indigent and Medicaid patients, a majority of whom are African-American.) When the policy was implemented, no drug treatment was available for pregnant or parenting women; mothers who tested positive at MUSC were simply jailed, often moments after giving birth.

Ten women who were arrested for testing positive, including nine women of color, challenged the policy on various constitutional and statutory grounds and are now asking the United States Supreme Court to overturn the Fourth Circuit's decision to uphold the policy. Plaintiffs believe the Fourth Circuit committed a significant Fourth Amendment interpretation error in adjudicating in favor of Defendants. Furthermore, this ruling, if allowed to stand, will severely corrode the trust that is the basis of the physician-patient relationship. Pregnant women will be deterred from seeing doctors, from talking candidly with them, and from consenting to medically advisable medical tests. Unfortunately, the women who are most likely to be deterred from obtaining medical treatment -- those most likely to test positive -- are also the women who would most benefit from attentive prenatal care. Such a policy departs from established and carefully considered medical standards for substance abuse treatment and prenatal care and is highly inimical to The Public Health.

The full text of the Lindesmith Center's brief is online at http://www.lindesmith.org/about_tlc/ferguson_fact.html.

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