Pregnant women have long been scrutinized for certain “unhealthy” activities that can threaten the health of a fetus. Though societal expectations have changed overtime, law enforcement officials seem to be raising the bar and pursuing more aggressive means to test and prosecute pregnant women for drug use. In a recent case, an Alabama woman was accused of taking drugs during her pregnancy and on the day she went into labor. The 24-year-old defendant has been charged with one count of “chemical endangerment of exposing a child to an environment where controlled substances are ingested, produced, or distributed.” Her bond was set at $10,000 and she must get a negative drug test before being released.
According to reports, the woman confessed to taking methadone during the pregnancy and morphine and valium the day she went into labor.
What are pregnant women’s rights in drug cases and when has the state gone too far in testing? While the state has an incentive to ensure that women are not breaking the law or endangering a fetus, there have been cases that have gone too far. Prosecutors throughout Alabama have been more aggressive in filing cases against women who test positive for drug use while pregnant. Combining fetal rights advocacy with the war against drugs, more and more pregnant women have faced the harsh scrutiny within the criminal justice system.
Unfortunately, women are often charged with serious crimes, including child neglect, contributing to the delinquency of a minor, or chemical endangerment, even felony assault, without considering the legality of the drug or how casually the woman used it. Whether the woman was using heroin or a prescription medication may not matter to prosecutors. Though these cases are sensitive, it is important to consider the civil liberties of pregnant women when it comes to testing for drug use and criminal charges related to drugs and pregnancy.
Between 1973 and 2005, more than 400 women were incarcerated or forced into drug treatment. There have been 300 more cases since and the National Advocates for Pregnant Women (NAPW) asserts that this is likely an underestimate. In addition to women who are subjected to state drug testing and incarceration, others have been reported to child protective services (CPS) agencies because of their drug tests.
In 2001, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that drug testing pregnant women without consent is unconstitutional, though policies continue to vary in states, counties and hospitals. What is the law of consent when a pregnant women signs a medical form necessary for treatment?
Pregnant women who are tested for drugs or charged with crimes because of their pregnancy should consult with an experienced advocate. This is a complex area of the law, with both state and federal implications, but should be evaluated by an experienced attorney.
If you were drug tested without consent or you are a pregnant woman facing criminal charges, it is important to consult with an experienced defense attorney who understands the facts of your case. Our Birmingham drug crimes defense lawyers have extensive experience in state and federal investigations and can effectively protect your rights.