Prematurity, Low Birth Rate, Infections, Small Head Size, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, Birth Defects, and Stunted Growth. These are merely a few of the health risks associated with drug abuse for a baby. When a pregnant woman uses drugs, she and her unborn child face serious health problems. During pregnancy, the drugs used by the mother can enter the baby’s bloodstream. Some states have taken measures to detect pregnant women who use drugs. In particular, a South Carolina public hospital’s policy is designed to detect pregnant women who use crack-cocaine.
In South Carolina if a mother uses cocaine while pregnant it will not only cause health risks for her and her unborn child, she will also be faced with criminal prosecutions. Why does South Carolina feel the need to punish pregnant cocaine users? Besides the fact that cocaine is illegal, they either want to solely punish the women or detect them in hopes of helping them rehabilitate. Research shows that South Carolina’s main concerns are criminal prosecution. Simon Heller, an attorney for a woman who tested positive, says that she was arrested “right out of the hospital bed, still bleeding from having given birth.
” The woman was arrested under the state’s child endangerment law, which targets women who use illegal drugs while pregnant. Heller’s defense before the court was whether pregnant women have lesser constitutional rights than other Americans. The U. S. Supreme Court will determine whether testing pregnant women for drug use is a violation of the U. S. Constitution, the ruling is expected sometime in 2001. At the heart of the issue is South Carolina’s policy dealing with pregnant drug abusers.
The court will decide whether the policy violates Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable searches. In its defense, South Carolina Attorney General says, “There is no constitutional right for a pregnant mother to use drugs. The unborn child has a constitutional right to protection from its mother’s drug abuse. ” While the ruling of the court has not yet been decided, there are numerous arguments pertaining to this case. Lynn Paltrow of the Women’s Law Center disagrees with South Carolina’s policy because she feels it discourages a woman from seeking prenatal care.
Many women are afraid to seek treatment for fear they will be punished if they admit their drug addiction. If providing care and treatment to a pregnant drug abuser reduced many of the negative effects on her baby, maybe she would seek treatment. A mother’s continuing drug use puts her children at risk for neglect, physical abuse, and malnutrition. Its difficult to beat drug addiction, but a woman who uses drugs can recover with the right kind of treatment. Maybe South Carolina should focus on rehilibation rather than try to frighten women away from the medical system by criminal prosecution.
Alcohol and drug treatment centers in South Carolina have reported up to an 80% drop in the number of pregnant women seeking substance abuse treatment since the South Carolina Supreme Court has authorized the prosecution of pregnant women. The women most in need of care are not seeking help, causing even more harm to the fetus. Few drug treatment programs in South Carolina are designed to accommodate the needs of pregnant women. A 1991 state report on substance abusing pregnant women recommended increasing the availability of drug treatment in South Carolina rather than prosecuting pregnant women.
In retrospect, supporters of South Carolina’s policy say the law has forced crack-addicted women to seek care, making for healthier mothers and children. This has proven to be false. For example, a 28-year-old South Carolina woman said she moved to Charlotte, N. C. , when she got pregnant so she could keep using crack without getting arrested. But critics say the law, while well intentioned, is poor public health policy. The nation’s major medical organizations, including the American Medical Association and the American Nurses Association, oppose criminal sanctions against drug-addicted pregnant women- they favor rehabilitation.
South Carolina Attorney General hopes to ease fears with a program that keeps women from going to jail as long as they’re in treatment. South Carolina law requires all medical professionals and drug counselors to report child neglect to police or face prosecution. Doctors already have started reporting women, but drug counselors refuse to do so arguing that it would be counterproductive. An operator for the Keystone women’s drug clinic in South Carolina said, “If we turn them over to police when they come in here, then our whole effectiveness is gone. I don’t. I can’t. And I won’t.
” A half-dozen former crack addicts interviewed at Keystone all said the fear of going to jail initially had kept them from seeking help. While South Carolina takes pride in being the first state to prosecute pregnant drug users for child neglect, it may be that the state does not have women’s best interests at heart. The threat of criminal charges drives women away from medical facilities where they would receive critical services including substance abuse treatment and prenatal care. If these women were able to receive treatment, it would benefit the unborn babies as well as society as a whole.