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Why criminalizing prenatal drug abuse is dangerous

On Behalf of | Mar 9, 2020 | Drug charges

These days, nobody in the government wants to look “soft” on the issue of drug abuse. That’s creating legislative momentum, however, that could make it harder for some women with addictions to obtain help when they need it the most.

North Carolina’s House Bill 918 could be going for a senate vote in April. If approved:

  • Any illicit drug use by the mother during pregnancy would be defined as child abuse, whether the infant suffers any harm nor not.
  • The state would no longer be obligated to try to reunify the infant with its parents in cases where the infant was exposed to drugs.
  • It would drastically decrease the time it takes to terminate the parents’ rights in those cases.

The goal is, of course, to protect infants from harm. Activists have pointed out, however, that the new law could actually put more infants in danger. Under the law, any drug user who becomes pregnant could be prosecuted for child abuse — even if they make an immediate attempt to get off drugs once they know they are pregnant. Pregnant drug users may delay or skip prenatal care out of fear of prosecution as a result.

The bill also effectively strips pregnant women of important rights — and that can extend to anyone who is pregnant very easily. In essence, any activity that potentially harms a fetus could eventually be prosecuted. It also flies in the face of evidence that it’s harmful to a child not to allow a newborn and mother to develop a strong bond whenever possible.

Drug users need treatment, not jail. Laws like this punish people for even trying to get help, and they’re a symptom of a justice system that isn’t really interested in helping people. If you’ve been charged with drug use, find out how an attorney can assist.