Pregnancy

RSS Feed for this category

Pregnancy: New Mexico Supreme Court Strikes Down Law Criminalizing Drug Use By Mothers-To-Be

In a case that pitted hard-nosed legislators and prosecutors against an array of women's rights, public health, medical, and drug reform groups, the New Mexico Supreme Court ruled May 11 that a state law expanding criminal child abuse laws to include drug use by pregnant women was unconstitutional. In a summary opinion, the state high court upheld a state Court of Appeals decision that reached the same conclusion.

The ruling came in the case of Cynthia Martinez, who was charged with felony child abuse in 2003 after her newborn child tested positive for cocaine. Under the law in question, she was charged with "permitting a child under 18 years of age to be placed in a situation that may endanger the child's life or health" by ingesting illicit drugs while pregnant.

While the state argued that a pregnant woman who is addicted to drugs should be sent to jail as a felony child abuser, both the appeals court and the state Supreme Court disagreed. During oral arguments, the justices appeared to be particularly concerned about issues raised in an amicus curiae brief submitted by the Drug Policy Alliance and National Advocates for Pregnant Women on behalf of nearly three dozen other leading medical and public health organizations, physicians, and scientific researchers. The justices repeatedly mentioned the DPA/NAPW brief and expressed grave concerns about the deterrent effect such prosecutions would have on women seeking prenatal care.

Such rulings are critical to avoid criminalizing poor women, said NAPW staff attorney Tiloma Jayasinghe. "Making child abuse laws applicable to pregnant women and fetuses would, by definition, make every woman who is low-income, uninsured, has health problems, and/or is battered who becomes pregnant a felony child abuser," she explained. "In oral argument, the state's attorney conceded that the law could potentially be applied to pregnant women who smoked."

Szczepanski said, "I hope that this case serves as a reminder that pregnant women who are struggling with drug use should be offered prenatal care and drug treatment, not prosecution. There are better ways to protect our children in New Mexico, and ensure that future generations will be safe and healthy."

Supreme Court of New Mexico Strikes Down State’s Attempt to Convict Woman Struggling with Addiction During Pregnancy

For Immediate Release: May 11, 2007 CONTACT: Reena Szczepanski (DPA): 505-983-3277 or Nancy Goldstein (NAPW): 347-563-1647 Supreme Court of New Mexico Strikes Down State’s Attempt to Convict Woman Struggling with Addiction During Pregnancy Leading Physicians, Scientific Researchers, and Medical, Public Health, and Child Welfare Organizations Applaud Court’s Order On May 11, the Supreme Court of the State of New Mexico turned back the state's attempt to expand the criminal child abuse laws to apply to pregnant women and fetuses. In 2003, Ms. Cynthia Martinez was charged with felony child abuse “for permitting a child under 18 years of age to be placed in a situation that may endanger the child's life or health. . .” In bringing this prosecution, the state argued that a pregnant woman who cannot overcome a drug addiction before she gives birth should be sent to jail as a felony child abuser. Today the Supreme Court summarily affirmed the Court of Appeals decision, which overturned Ms. Martinez’s conviction. New Mexico joins more than 20 other states that have ruled on this issue and that have refused to judicially expand state criminal child abuse and related laws to reach the issues of pregnancy and addiction. The Drug Policy Alliance (“DPA”) and the National Advocates for Pregnant Women (“NAPW”) filed a friend-of-the-court brief http://www.drugpolicy.org/docUploads/NMvMartinezAmicusBrief.pdf on behalf of the New Mexico Public Health Association, the New Mexico Nurses Association, and nearly three dozen other leading medical and public health organizations, physicians, and scientific researchers. During oral argument, the Justices referenced the amicus brief filed by these organizations and expressed grave concerns about the deterrent effect such prosecutions would have on women seeking prenatal care. Tiloma Jayasinghe, NAPW staff attorney, explained, “Making child abuse laws applicable to pregnant women and fetuses would, by definition, make every woman who is low-income, uninsured, has health problems, and/or is battered who becomes pregnant a felony child abuser. In oral argument, the state’s attorney conceded that the law could potentially be applied to pregnant women who smoked.” Reena Szczepanski, Director of Drug Policy Alliance New Mexico, said, “I hope that this case serves as a reminder that pregnant women who are struggling with drug use should be offered prenatal care and drug treatment, not prosecution. There are better ways to protect our children in New Mexico, and ensure that future generations will be safe and healthy.” A complete list of the Amici appears below: New Mexico Section of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists New Mexico Public Health Association New Mexico Nurses Association American College of Physicians, New Mexico National Association of Social Workers National Association of Social Workers, New Mexico National Coalition for Child Protection Reform Child Welfare Organizing Project American Academy of Addiction Psychiatry The Association for Medical Education and Research in Substance Abuse American Public Health Association Citizens for Midwifery Doctors of the World-USA Family Justice The Hygeia Foundation, Inc. National Perinatal Association National Asian Pacific American Women's Forum National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health National Women's Health Network Our Bodies Ourselves Pegasus Legal Services for Children Physicians and Lawyers for National Drug Policy Center for Gender and Justice Yolanda Briscoe, M.D. Bette Fleishman Norton Kalishman, M.D. Eve Espey, M.D. Gavriela DeBoer Dona Upson, M.D., M.A. Elizabeth M. Armstrong, Ph.D. Wendy Chavkin, M.D., M.P.H. Ellen Wright Clayton, M.D., J.D. Nancy Day, M.P.H. Leslie Hartley Gise, M.D. Stephanie S. Covington, Ph.D., L.C.S.W. Ms. Martinez was represented by Jane Wishner of the outhwest Women's Law Center and Joseph Goldberg of the law firm of Freedman Boyd Daniels Hollander Goldberg & Ives, P.A.
Localização: 
NM
United States

Feature: Arkansas Law Punishing Mothers Whose Newborns Test Positive for Drugs Accomplishes Little, Study Finds

As legislators at statehouses across the country ponder laws that criminalize or civilly punish drug use by pregnant women, researchers in Arkansas have evaluated the working of a similar law there -- and found it wanting. Meanwhile, bills are pending in at least five states -- Idaho, South Carolina, South Dakota, Virginia, and Wyoming -- that would do the same thing. Proponents of such laws portray them as aimed at "saving the children," but critics argue such laws do little for children and are really aimed at controlling drug use by punishing young, poor, and minority women.

In 2005, Arkansas legislators passed a bill popularly known as Garrett's Law, after a baby supposedly born with methamphetamine in his system. [Editor's Note: Be wary of any law named after a victim; they seem to pass easily in a rush of emotion with science and reason brushed aside.] Under Garrett's Law, the mothers of newborn infants who test positive for illegal drugs are presumed to be guilty of parental neglect under the state's civil code, and medical personnel can report them to police and child protective service workers.

Last fall, at the request of policy analysts studying the law, the Arkansas Department of Health and Human Services, Division of Children and Family Services commissioned a report on how the law had been implemented and what its impact had been. Among that report's key findings:

  • There were 412 referrals under Garrett's Law in the 12-month period examined. With some 38,405 births recorded during that period, Garrett's Law referrals amounted to a rate of 10.7 per every thousand births.
  • Marijuana was by far the most commonly found drug, mentioned in just over half of all cases, while amphetamines and cocaine were found in about 25% of cases and heroin, barbiturates, or prescription drugs were found in about 7% of cases.
  • In two-thirds of cases, "no health problems" were reported in the infants. On the other extreme, eight infants died, but there is no evidence that the mother's drug use was the cause of death. Marijuana was most likely to be associated with no health problems, while health problems were more likely to be associated with stimulant use by the mother. Instances of death appear to be most commonly associated with barbiturate use.
  • A finding of child neglect was found to be "substantiated" in two-thirds of all cases referred and a Protective Services case was formally opened in 62% of all cases.
  • Slightly less than one-fourth (23%) of children involved with referrals were removed from the family home. The drug most associated with removal of children was cocaine, followed closely by amphetamines.
  • Only 5% of children removed from parents received any medical treatment related to the alleged maltreatment, although the report says it does not have complete numbers.
  • Either 6.6% or 20% of mothers reported received drug treatment. Again, the report complains of sloppy reporting and does not resolve the different figures.
  • Some 64% of mothers reported received some sort of "service," but in most cases that "service" was only drug testing.

"This report basically says there is nothing in the data that supports the notion these kids have health problems," said Lynn Paltrow, executive director of National Advocates for Pregnant Women. "This law is not about children's health, but has everything to do with controlling drug use in certain populations. They say people who use drugs are bad parents, but I say show me some evidence-based research that documents the extent to which drug use and parenting ability are truly associated," she said. "You have 72 million people admitting to having used marijuana -- are they all bad parents?" Paltrow continued.

While some analysts supported the law because of the broad goals of protecting the health and welfare of infants and their mothers it is supposed to advance, even they had serious concerns about its impact. "While it is critically important that women who are pregnant and giving birth and have an illegal drug in their system need to be looked at closely -- it is an indicator that something is going on -- there are several problems with Garrett's Law," said Paul Kelly, senior policy analyst for Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families, who sits on the Garrett's Law advisory group. "One thing we have found is that there are a lot of women who are not being tested. That means we are relying on the judgment of the attending physician to decide who is and is not being tested."

Kelly raises an interesting question about who is being subjected to the law. The report on the law's working does not provide a race and class breakdown of who is being reported, although that information is presumably readily available. The report does provide a breakdown by age, and not surprisingly, most of the women reported under the law were in their twenties.

"Another problem with the law is that in many cases, the finding of substance use is the sole cause of the finding of mistreatment," Kelly continued. "They may have other children who are doing well, are well-cared for, doing well in school, yet they may be taken from their mother because of substance use without any consideration of other factors involved."

The report's low figures on treatment for women in the report -- either 6.6% or 20%--also raise concerns. "There is a terrible lack of treatment available to these women," said Kelly. "We take their children away from them, yet we are not providing appropriate treatment. Are we here to help or punish? This law has had some consequences that need to be corrected."

An effort to do just that is just getting under way early in the legislative season. "We're in the middle of trying to revise Garrett's Law to make it a little less punitive and more family-friendly," said Cynthia Crone, executive director of the Arkansas Center for Addictions Research, Education and Services (Arkansas CARES), which, among other things, runs the state's largest treatment program specifically aimed at mothers suffering from substance abuse.

Advocates are in the final stages of drafting reform language and now have a sponsor in the statehouse, Kelly said. "There are several things we are looking at. We don't want the fact that an illegal substance was found in the child's body at birth to be the sole determinant of whether there is child abuse going on," he said. "If the only finding is that these women have drugs in their system, they should not be placed on the child abuse registry, but given the opportunity to seek treatment. We don't want to ruin their ability to care for their children and have gainful employment because of making foolish mistakes."

"This report doesn't find a strong association between any kind of prenatal exposure to drug use and health problems in the infant," said Paltrow. "For legislators to focus on maternal drug use as the primary threat to children's health when there are eight million children without health insurance is absurd. If we focus on things like this, it distracts our attention from much larger issues, like the 46 million uninsured, the lack of treatment, no paid maternity leave, those fundamental problems. They say it's about the kids, but the result is not more funding or treatment; instead, we're out arresting mothers."

WY: Meth-pregnancy bill criticized

Localização: 
Cheyenne, WY
United States
Publication/Source: 
Billings Gazette (MT)
URL: 
http://www.billingsgazette.net/articles/2007/02/08/news/wyoming/55-meth.txt

Drug Abusing Mothers Targeted

Localização: 
Cincinnati, OH
United States
Publication/Source: 
Cincinnati Post
URL: 
http://news.cincypost.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20061006/NEWS01/610060345

Web Scan

commentary on pregnancy and drug use, from Women's Enews

Maryland criminal justice reform page, including report on treatment and imprisonment, from the Justice Policy Institute

historic anti-drug address of Ronald and Nancy Reagan

Cultural Baggage for 09/15/06, including Judge Arthur L. Burnett & Vincent Hayden of the National African American Drug Policy Coalition and Howard Wooldridge of Law Enforcement against Prohibition

Drug War Issues

Criminal JusticeAsset Forfeiture, Collateral Sanctions (College Aid, Drug Taxes, Housing, Welfare), Court Rulings, Drug Courts, Due Process, Felony Disenfranchisement, Incarceration, Policing (2011 Drug War Killings, 2012 Drug War Killings, 2013 Drug War Killings, 2014 Drug War Killings, 2015 Drug War Killings, 2016 Drug War Killings, 2017 Drug War Killings, Arrests, Eradication, Informants, Interdiction, Lowest Priority Policies, Police Corruption, Police Raids, Profiling, Search and Seizure, SWAT/Paramilitarization, Task Forces, Undercover Work), Probation or Parole, Prosecution, Reentry/Rehabilitation, Sentencing (Alternatives to Incarceration, Clemency and Pardon, Crack/Powder Cocaine Disparity, Death Penalty, Decriminalization, Defelonization, Drug Free Zones, Mandatory Minimums, Rockefeller Drug Laws, Sentencing Guidelines)CultureArt, Celebrities, Counter-Culture, Music, Poetry/Literature, Television, TheaterDrug UseParaphernalia, Vaping, ViolenceIntersecting IssuesCollateral Sanctions (College Aid, Drug Taxes, Housing, Welfare), Violence, Border, Budgets/Taxes/Economics, Business, Civil Rights, Driving, Economics, Education (College Aid), Employment, Environment, Families, Free Speech, Gun Policy, Human Rights, Immigration, Militarization, Money Laundering, Pregnancy, Privacy (Search and Seizure, Drug Testing), Race, Religion, Science, Sports, Women's IssuesMarijuana PolicyGateway Theory, Hemp, Marijuana -- Personal Use, Marijuana Industry, Medical MarijuanaMedicineMedical Marijuana, Science of Drugs, Under-treatment of PainPublic HealthAddiction, Addiction Treatment (Science of Drugs), Drug Education, Drug Prevention, Drug-Related AIDS/HIV or Hepatitis C, Harm Reduction (Methadone & Other Opiate Maintenance, Needle Exchange, Overdose Prevention, Pill Testing, Safer Injection Sites)Source and Transit CountriesAndean Drug War, Coca, Hashish, Mexican Drug War, Opium ProductionSpecific DrugsAlcohol, Ayahuasca, Cocaine (Crack Cocaine), Ecstasy, Heroin, Ibogaine, ketamine, Khat, Kratom, Marijuana (Gateway Theory, Marijuana -- Personal Use, Medical Marijuana, Hashish), Methamphetamine, New Synthetic Drugs (Synthetic Cannabinoids, Synthetic Stimulants), Nicotine, Prescription Opiates (Fentanyl, Oxycontin), Psilocybin / Magic Mushrooms, Psychedelics (LSD, Mescaline, Peyote, Salvia Divinorum)YouthGrade School, Post-Secondary School, Raves, Secondary School