Mothers behind bars
by The Anniston Star Editorial Board
Oct 03, 2012 | 2253 views |  0 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Drug users resemble everyday shoes; they come in all shapes, sizes and forms. There are male addicts, female abusers, old ones and young ones. Race is irrelevant. Expectant mothers are even on that list.

The concept of a pregnant woman willingly using illegal drugs is thoroughly repugnant. Even the woefully unenlightened would agree. Unborn babies are dependent on their mothers to ensure they receive the right nutrition and prenatal care. Expectant mothers who pop pills, shoot up or light up a joint are putting their babies’ health at risk along with their own.

The best option would be for all expectant mothers to eschew illegal drugs.

That doesn’t happen, as a story in last Sunday’s Star explained. Reporter Cameron Steele’s research unveiled a sordid tale of the growing number of babies who show signs of drug withdrawal after they are born. The human saga is obvious. The medical side is tragic. And the legal side? That’s where it gets murky.

Count Calhoun County prosecutors among those Alabama district attorneys’ offices that are prosecuting female drug users whose babies suffer from withdrawal. Boiled down, it is the natural reaction: Prosecute those who break the law (use illegal drugs) and harm others (their babies, in this case).

Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. Experts in health care and drug rehabilitation gave The Star ample reasons why this lock-’em-up approach has negative aspects. Long ago, doctors became aware that pregnant drug users often forego prenatal exams and care because they fear reprisals, legal or otherwise. Likewise, too many drug-rehab programs aren’t equipped — or refuse — to care for pregnant addicts.

Either way, the babies suffer.

We agree that egregious cases may deserve prosecution. But by and large, a more measured, reasoned approach that concentrates on prenatal care and access to rehabilitation programs for addicts is better than putting addicted mothers in jail. Though punishment is warranted, the ultimate goal should be grounded more in humanity than Old Testament justice.

The aim must be threefold: (a.) kicking new moms’ drug habits; (b.) caring for these newborns; and (c.) doing more to keep pregnant women from using while getting adequate prenatal care to those who do. Though legal advocates say addict-moms benefit from jail-rehab programs, we’re not convinced that pregnant women who use illegal drugs will overwhelmingly decide to stop using because of a fear of prosecution.

Pregnancy and drug use, either together or singularly, are health-care issues, not legal ones.
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