Alabama’s Chemical Endangerment Law highlights ongoing tensions about pregnancy and substance use

A couple of weeks ago, the New York Times Magazine published a disturbing article by Ada Calhoun called The Criminalization of Bad Mothers (April 25, 2012).

The article looks at a law enacted in Alabama in 2006 which was designed to protect children from explosive meth labs. It has now been used to prosecute 60 women for exposing their children to substances during pregnancy. Unlike most other states where maternal substance use would be perceived as child protection issue or a health issue, women are being prosecuted.

You can learn more about the issue of criminalizing pregnant women who use substances on the National Advocates for Pregnant Women website. Also, check out a previous post Fear and judgement of pregnant drug-using women: what are the consequences? (July 28, 2010).

The article has generated some pretty heated discussion (which is a good sign!) and has prompted the American Psychiatric Association and 43 other organizations and individuals to publicly condemn the law. They argue that:

the lower court’s decision endangers maternal, fetal, and child health by deterring drug-dependent women from seeking health care, carrying their pregnancies to term, and sharing vital health information with their physicians. Pregnant women who lawfully take prescribed controlled substances would also be subject to arrest under the lower court’s interpretation, as would their prescribing physicians.

For more, read APA Condemns Prosecution of Pregnant Drug Abusers (Jonathan Wolfe, May 4, 2012).