Jailed for being pregnant and high: The Atlantic

A recent lengthy and data-driven Atlantic piece discusses the difficulties in punishing mothers or pregnant women who are addicted to drugs and raises some important questions. Alternatives certainly need to be put in place for drug-addicted moms and moms-to-be, but is this a public health issue or a punishment issue? Should a woman be punished for her drug use? Usually, people are punished for drug possession or for actions they take, such a shoplifting or prostitution, in order to provide for their family or get money for their next high.

From the article:

People who oppose jailing drug-addicted new mothers, meanwhile, say the practice inappropriately relies on the justice system to solve a health problem, and that it does not deter other pregnant women from using illicit substances.

“There’s no evidence that punitive responses promote healthy moms and babies,” Borgmann says. “In fact, they do the opposite. They’re telling women that if you seek medical attention, you could go to jail, or you could lose your children.”

Some drug-using women have even become skittish about receiving prenatal care. Smith avoided many of her obstetric appointments while she was pregnant with Jacob. “I figure it was because her drug use would have been discovered if she had gone to the doctor,” her mother says.

Some drug-addicted mothers-to-be are being prosecuted in certain states for harming their unborn children. It’s called felony child neglect. Is this right? What if the mother has a track record of children being born with drugs in their system? Do we jail her or get her substance abuse treatment? These aren’t easy questions to answer. But as a society, we need to think about them, no matter how hard it is to do so.


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