Featured in today's New York Times is a very disturbing article entitled "The Criminalization of Bad Motherhood,"which reports on a new trend of punishing women who take drugs during their pregnancy, whether or not there is damage to the child once born. Currently, this kind of fetal criminal endangerment law is only found in Alabama, but there is a movement to spread these laws to other states.
As the article points out, these type of laws are not only harsh but sometimes counterproductive:
Critics of Alabama’s chemical-endangerment law argue that drug use by pregnant women is best treated as a health issue, not a criminal one. Addiction, they say, can be treated, but drug users have to be willing to seek help, which they might be less likely to do if they fear arrest. “To simplify a complex medical and psychosocial issue into a criminal issue is really just like using a hammer to play the piano,” says Dr. Deborah Frank, a pediatrician and director of Boston Medical Center’s Grow Clinic for Children. “The whole definition of addiction is compulsive behavior in spite of adverse consequences — like the person who keeps eating doughnuts even though their doctor tells them they’re morbidly obese and going to die of a heart attack.” Deterrents, experts like Frank say, don’t work well when it comes to addicts and may even be counterproductive.
We live in a society that criminalizes more and more behavior each day, with little to show for it but growing prison populations. Adding criminal sanctions for pregnant drug abusers is just the latest example of a foolhardy and costly trend.