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Lock em’ up…More American Harm!

North Carolina Legislators Consider ‘Fetal Harm’ Bill Criminalizing Pregnancy

“Despite conservative lawmakers’ moves to criminalize pregnancy, medical professionals and advocates contend that “fetal harm” laws actually do harm themselves.”

Women who use drugs have significantly higher mortality rates, increased likelihood of facing health problems due to their use, faster progression from first use to dependence, higher rates of  HIV and increased risky injection and/or sexual risk behaviors. The specific issues faced by females are the same issues of subordination, discrimination and social marginalization faced by women in many parts of the world coupled with the issues of social isolation, discrimination and social marginalization faced by all drug users.  Women who use drugs often lack power in their communities and their personal relationships.  They are often exposed to sexual abuse and violence, stigmatized by the community, are forced to cope with an imbalance in responsibilities for childcare.  Women face ongoing threats to their well- being from multiple channels.  Some are forced into street-based sex work and face barriers in accessing services (both disease prevention and drug dependence treatment).

Drug using women have few allies.  Who do we call for help?  The police?  Who do we tell we are in trouble, our failing mental health systems (who report us to social services)? Women with recent drug charges are ineligible for food stamps. We are rarely given anything that resembles help- or at least the kind of help anyone would ever voluntarily ask for.  If our lives were not upside-down already- once the “helping professionals” come in they will be.  NOW…we are going to add prison sentences for women to admit to using drugs while pregnant???  This cannot possibly be a good idea!

“Rather than suggest that punishment is an appropriate response to pregnant women and drug use, the DOJ should have policy consistent with positions taken by leading medical experts and organizations,” “These groups unanimously recognize that threats of arrest and punishment do not protect children, but do increase risks of harm to maternal, fetal and child health by deterring women from seeking prenatal care and speaking openly about their health problems.”

Some judges and prosecutors claim that prosecuting pregnant women discourages drug use by, “forcing” pregnant women into treatment programs and improving maternal and fetal health outcomes. In reality, they do nothing to improve public health or address the serious problem of addiction. The Reproductive Justice movement opposes the use of criminal sanctions against women who use drugs during pregnancy. While drug use during pregnancy is a serious public health concern, it should not be handled as a criminal matter.

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