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This June, passionate debate took place on the North Carolina Senate floor. House Bill 918 was up for a vote, and if passed, would make it faster and easier to both remove infants at birth and terminate parental rights following exposure to substances.

Senate Democrats, armed with education from advocacy groups, shared just a few of the reasons the bill is dangerous: it disregards medical science; demonizes substance use; expects parents to access traditional treatment without medicaid expansion; places more kids in our defective foster care system; and largely targets poor families and families of color.

Meanwhile, Republican proponents of the bill performed faux concern for infants with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome, something that can be treated by close physical contact with parents. They used inaccurate and disparaging language like “addicted families” and glazed over questions about the true consequences of the bill. While Black Lives Matter protests were demanding attention all across the nation, Senator Krawiec was asked if she knew what racial disparities the bill might cause and responded, “I do not know, and frankly, do not care.”

While the bill passed its final reading in the NC Senate and then in the House of Representatives, we felt that the unanimous opposition by House and Senate Democrats- along with a couple Republicans- was a victory itself. What’s more, Governor Cooper vetoed the bill in early July, allowing us to truly celebrate the fact that pregnant and parenting folks who use substances are just a little bit safer this month than they were last month.

This could not have happened without our community. Behind-the-scenes folks have shared that the opposition by legislators, their passionate debates, and the eventual veto by the Governor had everything to do with the tremendous advocacy our coalition did around this bill. Advocacy works! We are tremendously grateful for everyone who shared their stories and convictions with lawmakers.

Though the veto means that House Bill 918 is most likely dead, it is still possible for the legislature to bring a veto override up for a vote when they return for one last week of the legislative session in September. Further, this bill highlighted for us more ways that the drug war has brought surveillance and violence to the drug user community, and how these harms play out differently across intersections like sex, gender, class, and race.

We have all been force-fed stigma surrounding drug use and parenting for decades, leading to gaps in solidarity even within our own coalitions. It is all too easy to limit our willingness to fight for people who use substances to those who meet arbitrary guidelines of traditional respectability, like total abstinence or so- called perfect parenting. It is easier still to create programming that simply forgets to take into account needs like prenatal care, childcare, or avoiding or navigating social service involvement.

NCSU is committed to closing these gaps, and fighting HB918 is just the beginning. We are partnering with harm reduction services that specifically cater to pregnant folks, starting a storytelling initiative to disrupt narratives around parenting and substance use, and always looking for ways to uplift our community members.

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