Saturday, March 15, 2008

In Alabama, a Crackdown on Pregnant Drug Users

In an unusual burst of prosecutions, young women using drugs are being charged with harming their children.

read more | digg story

Will this policy achieve the goal of deterring young women from abusing drugs while they are pregnant? Probably not. Be here are a few items that will result from this flawed policy:
  1. More women may fail to seek out prenatal care. If doctors are reporting drug abuse to authorities, fewer women will seek prenatal care. Who will suffer if this problem occurs?
  2. Is there a class bias in the prosecutor's actions? It is difficult to tell from the story, but it seems that he may be singling out poor women for prosecution.
  3. Are there alternatives to using the legal system as a hammer in these cases? Would treatment not be preferable to prosecution?
  4. What type of behavior will be the next target? Women who smoke or consume alcohol while they are pregnant?
While the goal of protecting the lives of fetuses and newborns is laudable, the use of legal sanctions is counterproductive to the overall goal. The prosecutor could be involved, but should defer to the medical community.

1 comment:

John E. Godwin said...

I think the very same message could have been sent if the child was removed from the mother and she had to work with a social services agency to become more educated, and to provide proof she wasn't again going to put the child in danger. However, this is a late reaction. If the Criminal Justice System is compelled to become involved in these situations, why not randomly collect urinalysis tests from the expecting mothers. Then we don't have to wait for a baby that has been essentially abusing drugs for the past 9 months before something is done.