Can Addiction Make Pregnant Women Be Charged With Crime?
There is a debate whether charging pregnant women for drug use or child abuse helps the unborn child or harms it. In the United States, while most states do not have laws punishing substance abuse during pregnancy, women are being charged with crimes for endangering their baby when they use illegal drugs like cocaine or heroin during pregnancy.
So far, Miller & Steiert, P.C. cites Tennessee as the state with the most stringent law against pregnant women on drugs. Authorities are alarmed over the continued rise in the number of drug-dependent babies, up to 973 in 2014 from 921 the previous year.
Women using hard drugs during pregnancy may ready themselves with a good criminal defense lawyer in Littleton, CO, as they can be charged with aggravated assault. This carries a penalty of 15 years’ imprisonment, if either the fetus or newborn is harmed.
They do provide a way for these women to stay out of jail: seek treatment. However, there are only a handful of facilities offering this service and they are working with limited resources.
Not the Right Approach
Medical experts feel that prosecution only harms the baby more and will not necessarily make the pregnant woman shape up and kick the habit. Threats of serving time in jail only push women to go into hiding and avoid prenatal care, which is crucial especially in determining whether a baby is suffering distress due to drug exposure.
Even those who enroll in treatment programs are dropping out and avoiding prenatal check-ups or even consider abortion just to escape prosecution.
Endangering the Baby
The law is largely to protect babies – both the unborn and newly-born – but rarely take into consideration the mothers who are grappling with addiction. While drug use per se is not grounds for prosecution, it is the resulting harm to the baby that makes it very real for these women to end up in prison.
Other states have passed similar laws. However, implementing it is another matter. Some women have been charged for the death of their babies because they were using drugs during pregnancy. More often they are charged for child abuse, especially if babies are found with developmental defects or tested as drug-dependent babies.