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A Failed Approach to Drug Use During Pregnancy
Ingrid Duran 14 March 2019
For almost fifty years, America has been fighting a failed so-called drug war. The devastating and lasting effects caused by addiction not only impacts the person using illegal narcotics, but almost all their time, their families, and their communities are also impacted. Some pregnant mothers are no strangers to addiction, because that is one of the common threads about addiction. It can happen to anyone. Addiction does not care if you’re from an affluent or low socio-economic background. It doesn’t discriminate on race, gender, what level of education you’ve attained, or what part of the country you’re from. You or I can become victims of addiction.
So when newborns are born with traces of narcotics or worse addicted to an illegal and harmful substance, the compassion that we feel for that helpless baby compels us to want to act. But what is the right approach? There are some people in our movement that while well-intentioned, believe the approach is to criminalize drug use during pregnancy and place mothers in jail. In 2014, Tennessee passed a law that did just that that. Luckily, in 2016 that Tennessee law has since expired. Every now and then a new state will make some kind of push to throw pregnant women in jail for drug use during pregnancy. A lot of times, it is our own friends in the pro-life movement. At the beginning of the 2019 Legislative session, there was speculation that Pennsylvania was possibly considering legislation that would target mothers who use drugs. I’m glad to say that it never came to light.
There are two major flaws with that line of thinking. First, abortion is legal everywhere. All a drug-addicted mother would have to do to avoid prosecution is abort her baby. No baby, no problem. For obvious reasons, we are opposed to that strategy because we want to be able to save as many babies as possible. Also, The National Right to Life Committee opposes any bill or law that prosecutes women. Secondly, addiction is misunderstood. Addiction is a disease. The American Psychiatric Association classifies it as a brain disorder. The pregnant mother is also a victim. It is possible to love the sinner but despise the sin.
So, what can those in the pro-life movement do, if they really want to limit the number of babies born with addiction? Do what Colorado, Connecticut, Kansas, Louisiana, and Utah did. They created an alternative program in their respective states that is based on voluntary, priority treatment for drug addicted mothers and their children. For instance in Louisiana, the Department of Health and Hospitals created a program to provide pregnant women with resources with addiction disorders. In Utah, the law allocated money from the federal Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment Block Grant to create a program prioritizing treatment for pregnant women and minors who are addicted to drugs. That is the pro-life response.
We stand to lose everything if we blindly believe that throwing a pregnant mother in jail for a brain disorder is the best way to effectively deal with addiction. She and that baby need love, counseling, medical attention, and resources to help her put an end to addiction. Our goal is a healthy mother and healthy baby, not a scared mother who will abort her baby to avoid going to jail. In the pro-life movement, we have a slogan started by the late and great former president of the National Right to Life Committee Jack C. Wilke, “Love them both.” I appeal to all of you to find the compassion in your hearts to truly love them both and provide pregnant women and their children with real alternatives so they can be transformed from victim to survivor.
Ingrid Duran, Director of State Legislation, National Right to Life Committee