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Criminal Prosecutions Against Pregnant Women: National Update and Overview (1992)

This documents the cases of an estimated 167 women who have been arrested on criminal charges because of their behavior during pregnancy or because they became pregnant while addicted to drugs. The cases are from twenty-four states. A disproportionate number of these cases come from just two states, Florida and South Carolina, and are concentrated in two counties in each of those states. This article is posted here with the permission of the American Civil Liberties Union.

Governmental Response to Pregnant Women Who Use Alcohol or Other Drugs (PDF, 730 Kbytes)

This Overview surveys civil and criminal laws directly addressing pregnant women's use of alcohol and other drugs. It reveals a patchwork of policies, some oriented toward treatment, some purportedly focused on child protection, some frankly punitive.

Our Common Struggle

The first person I saw when I arrived at the Second National Harm Reduction Conference in Cleveland, Ohio last October was the Reverend Howard Moody. Reverend Moody is a great hero of mine, and not only because of his current work organizing clergy to speak out against the drug war. As a reproductive rights litigator, I came to learn of his very critical and radical work to help legalize abortion. When abortion was illegal in this country -- and to say free abortion on demand was as radical as it is to say today "free drug treatment on demand" -- Rev. Howard Moody and Arlene Carmen organized the Clergy Consultation Service.

Perspective of a Reproductive Rights Attorney

For some women in America, pregnancy is a crime. Women with addiction problems may be subject to a new array of punitive interventions by the government simply because they become pregnant. Prosecutors, acting like lawmakers, are prosecuting pregnant women under criminal laws never intended to apply to them. Similarly, child welfare advocates are promoting unfounded interpretations of civil child abuse and neglect laws to permit the removal of hundreds of children from their mothers, not because of evidence that the mothers will not properly care for their children, but rather because a single drug test indicates that the women used drugs once during pregnancy.

Punishing Women for Their Behavior During Pregnancy: An Approach That Undermines the Health of Women and Children (PDF, 164 Kbytes)

For more than a decade, law enforcement personnel, judges, and elected officials nationwide have sought to punish women for their actions during pregnancy that may affect the fetuses they are carrying (Gallagher 1987). Women who are having children despite substance abuse problems have been a particular target, finding themselves pros- ecuted for such nonexistent crimes as ≥fetal abuse≤ and delivery of drugs through the umbilical cord. In addition, pregnant women are being civilly committed or jailed, and new mothers are losing custody of their children even when they would be capable parents. Meanwhile, State legislators have repeatedly introduced substance abuse and child welfare proposals that would penalize only pregnant women with addiction problems.

Punishment and Prejudice: Judging Drug-Using Pregnant Women

Throughout the late 1980's and still today, "crack moms" and "crack babies" are the subject of vigorous public debate. Much of this public discussion has been governed by speculation and medical misinformation reported as fact in both medical journals and in the popular press and has been extremely judgmental and punitive in many instances.

The Rights of Pregnant Patients: Carder Case Brings Bold Policy Initiatives

When George Washington University Medical Center ("GWUMC") developed and adopted groundbreaking policies concerning the rights of pregnant patients to make health care decisions without court intervention, it not only reversed its position on the appropriateness of court-ordered medical care,' but resolved three years of daunting litigation against it for having subjected 27-year-old Angela Carder to a life threatening court-ordered Caesarean section in June 1987

SCAPW Response to The Unborn Victims of Violence Act

The New York Times editorialized that the Unborn Victims of Violence Act is on "a dangerous path to fetal rights" that could send "the nation down a legal path that could undermine the privacy rights of women." South Carolina's experience proves this to be true.

Treatment, not Sterilization, is the Way to Help Addicted Moms

Just as government data give us welcome news that crack use is on the decline, C.R.A.C.K., a private program that offers addicts $200 to use long-acting birth control or to get sterilized is attracting national support. While it is true that the financial incentive is modest; the numbers accepting the offer still relatively few (fewer than 400) and that at least some of the women express genuine appreciation for the program, there is cause for grave concern about this initiative because it promotes prejudice and perpetuates myths.


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