NAPW
For Immediate Release:
October 30, 2003
Contact: Lynn Paltrow 212-255-9252

Over 50 Public Health Organizations, Experts, and Related Advocates Condemn the Prosecution of Pregnant Woman

 American Public Health Association, American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists District II, American Academy of Addiction Psychiatry, American Society of Addiction Medicine, American College of Nurse-Midwives, National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Family Justice Inc, and National Coalition on Child Protection Reform Among Groups Advocating Treatment 

Arrest of Glens Falls Woman for Drinking While Pregnant Will Undermine Health of Children and Women

Today more than 50 medical, public health, and advocacy groups, as well as leading medical health care providers and experts, sent an open letter to the Warren County District Attorney's office opposing the prosecution of Stacey Gilligan. Gilligan is being charged on two counts of child endangerment based on allegations that she drank alcohol while pregnant.

While taking seriously the problems posed by alcohol and drug use - problems that are not limited to pregnant women - these concerned organizations and individuals condemn the arrest and prosecution of pregnant women. 

The arrest and prosecution of Stacey Gilligan and other women like her is not an effective child protection method. Threat of jail will not address the woman's alcohol dependency problem and will send a dangerous message that seeking pre- and postnatal care can lead to criminal sanctions.  In fact, as every leading health group to address the issue has concluded, this and similar arrests are likely to increase the risk of harm to children not reduce it.

As the letter states in part:

"Medical knowledge about addiction and dependency treatment demonstrates that patients do not and cannot simply stop their drug use as a result of threats of arrest or other negative consequences. In fact, threat-based approaches do not protect children. They have been shown to deter pregnant and parenting women not from using drugs but from seeking prenatal care and drug and alcohol treatment."

On September 27, 2003 Stacey L. Gilligan, age 22, gave birth to a baby boy who allegedly tested positive for alcohol. Several days later Ms. Gilligan was arrested by Glens Falls police and she was charged with two counts of child endangerment. These counts allege that she "knowingly fed her blood" (via the umbilical cord) containing alcohol to her baby in the process of giving birth.

Dr. Sheila Blume, a nationally recognized expert on women and alcoholism and one of the experts signing the letter explained that "alcoholism is recognized as a disease by all medical authorities. People suffering from alcoholism need and deserve treatment, not punishment. Alcoholics can and do recover, but they need help to do so." Dr. Blume also noted that "arresting pregnant women or new mothers because they used alcohol or drugs during pregnancy leads pregnant sick women to fear going for help,  so that they receive neither obstetric nor alcoholism treatment.  Less recovery rather than more child protection will be the end result of such misguided policies on the part of the criminal justice system." 

New York State has clearly chosen to listen to the child and maternal health experts and decided to address issues of pregnancy and alcohol use through the public health system not the criminal justice system," said Lynn Paltrow, Executive Director of the National Advocates for Pregnant Women, a group that helped coordinate the letter. "The prosecution in this case undermines real efforts to further protect both maternal and fetal health."

Rebekah Diller, Director of New York Civil Liberties Union's Reproductive Rights Project, advocating on behalf of Ms. Gilligan, explained: "this prosecution not only fails to further the health interests of women and children it also flies in the face of  New York State law. "

Attached is a copy of the full letter and the complete list of signatories. Among the organizations signing on are:

American Public Health Association
American Academy of Addiction Psychiatry
American College of Nurse-Midwives
American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologist, District II (New York State)
American Society of Addiction Medicine
Baron Edmond de Rothschild Chemical Dependency Institute of Beth Israel Medical Center
Family Justice, Inc.
National Coalition for Child Protection Reform
National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence
Institute for Health and Recovery
Women's Health and Education Center



October 30, 2003

Warren County District Attorney's Office

Kate Hogan

Municipal Center
1340 State Route 9
Lake George, NY 12845

VIA FACSIMILE: (518) 761-6254

Dear Ms. Hogan:

As physicians, health care professionals, medical ethicists, midwives, child-welfare advocates, public health advocates and researchers we are greatly concerned about the recent arrest of a woman accused of endangering her fetus because she drank alcohol while pregnant.

While we do not in any way condone a person's use of alcohol, cigarettes, or drugs that might affect pregnancy outcome or a person's ability to parent, our commitment to the care of pregnant women and their children requires us to speak out against dangerous and counterproductive measures such as the arrest of pregnant women and new mothers.

As every leading medical organization to address this issue has concluded, including the American Medical Association, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, The American College of Nurse Midwives, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the March of Dimes, the problem of alcohol and drug use during pregnancy is a health issue best addressed through education and community-based treatment, not through the criminal justice system.

Alcohol dependency is a medical condition - not a crime. Pregnant women do not experience alcoholism and other drug dependencies because they want to harm their fetuses or because they don't care about their children.

Like other medical conditions, alcohol dependency can be controlled and overcome through medical treatment.  Medical knowledge about addiction and dependency treatment demonstrates that patients do not, and cannot, simply stop their drug use as a result of threats of arrest or other negative consequences. In fact, threat-based approaches do not protect children. They have been shown to deter pregnant and parenting women not from using drugs but from seeking prenatal care and drug and alcohol treatment.

Health risks to women, fetuses, and children whether from poverty, inadequate nutrition, exposure to alcohol, drugs, or other factors can be mitigated through prenatal care, counseling, and continued medical supervision.  For this to be effective, however, the patient must trust her health care provider to safeguard her confidences and stand by her while she attempts to improve her health (even when those efforts are not always successful).  Converting the physician's exam room into an interrogation chamber and turning health care professionals into agents of law enforcement destroys this trust. 

Unfortunately many people find it difficult to obtain the help they need to overcome their alcohol and drug dependency problems.  Arresting people with these problems not only deters them from seeking help - it is likely to deter others from offering compassion and providing the resources necessary to develop and fund the kinds of treatment that we know can help both pregnant women and their children.

We therefore ask you, in the interests of maternal, fetal, and child health to drop this dangerous and counter-productive prosecution.


Signed,

American Academy of Addiction Psychiatry
American College of Nurse-Midwives
American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologist, District II (New York State)
American Public Health Association
American Society of Addiction Medicine
Baron Edmond de Rothschild Chemical Dependency Institute of Beth Israel Medical Center
Family Justice, Inc.
National Advocates For Pregnant Women
National Coalition for Child Protection Reform
National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence
Institute for Health and Recovery
Women's Health and Education Center
Women's Law Project
Machelle Allen, M.D., Assistant Professor, Dept. of OB/GYN, New York University School of Medicine*
Adrienne Asch, Henry R. Luce Professor in Biology, Ethics, and the Politics of Human Reproduction, Wellesley College*
Rae Banks, Syracuse University*
Georges Benjamin, M.D., American Public Health Association
Sheila Blume, M.D.
Nancy D. Campbell, Ph.D.
R. Alta Charo, Ph.D., University of Wisconsin*
Wendy Chavkin, M.D., M.P.H., Principal Investigator, Finding Common Ground
Allan Clear, Harm Reduction Coalition
Deborah Coady, M.D., Soho Obstetrics and Gynecology, PC
Arnold W. Cohen, M.D., Chairman, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Albert Einstein Medical Center*
Kenneth DeVille, Ph.D., J.D., Professor Department of Medical Humanities, Brody School of Medicine*
Ernest Drucker, Montefiore Medical Center, Albert Einstein College of Medicine
Jennifer Fariello, RNC, BSN
Leslie Hartley Gise, M.D., Clinical Professor of Psychiatry, John A. Burns School of Medicine, University of Hawaii*
Elsa Gonzalez, Substance Abuse Counselor/Case Manager, Women & Children Care Center
Barbara Hare, CRNP, Nurse Practitioner, Albert Einstein Medical Center
A.B. Herman, Albert Einstein Medical Center
Susan Hodges, President, Citizens for Midwifery
Susan Holland, Albert Einstein Health Network
Janet Ko, M.D., Paley OB-GYN Associates
Maureen Kuntzmann, RNC
Alexis Leiberman, Albert Einstein Medical Center
David C. Lewis, M.D., Professor of Medicine and Community Health, Brown University
Terri Lotz-Ganley
Doris A. Marshall
McAlister C. Marshall, D. Min.
Mary Faith Marshall, Professor of Medicine and Bioethics, Kansas University Medical Center*
Howard Minkoff, MD, Distinguished Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at S.U.N.Y. Downstate; Chairman of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Maimonides Medical Center*
Daniel R. Neuspiel, M.D., M.P.H., Beth Israel Medical Center*
Robert Newman, M.D., President Emeritus, Continuum Health Partners, Inc.*
Judy Norsigian, Executive Director, Our Bodies Ourselves
Diana Romero, Ph.D., MA, Project Director, Finding Common Ground
Anne Rosenberg, Nurse Practitioner, Albert Einstein Medical Center*
Barbara Katz Rothman, Professor of Sociology, City University of New York*
Carol Sakala, Director of Programs, Maternity Center Association
Lynn T. Singer, Ph.D., Interim Provost and University Vice-President, Professor of Pediatrics and General Medical Sciences, Case Western Reserve University*
Nicole Sloan, Family Resource Coordinator, Albert Einstein Medical Center*
Sharon Stancliff, M.D.
Andrea Stolar, M.D., Women's Program Psychiatrist, Bay Pines VAMC, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry, University of South Florida*
Paul H. Wise, M.D., M.P.H.
 

*Organization for Identification Purposes Only

 

 



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