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The Guttmacher Institute in the United States works to advance sexual and reproductive health and rights through research, policy analysis and public education.

The two-page Substance Abuse During Pregnancy is part of their “State Policies in Brief” series and tackles the subject of how women’s substance abuse during pregnancy is dealt with at a policy level. While no state specifically criminalizes drug use during pregnancy, many prosecutors use other criminal laws to address prenatal substance use.

“Several states have expanded their civil child-welfare requirements to include prenatal substance abuse, so that prenatal drug exposure can provide grounds for terminating parental rights because of child abuse or neglect. Further, some states, under the rubric of protecting the fetus, authorize civil commitment (such as forced admission to an inpatient treatment program) of pregnant women who use drugs; these policies sometimes also apply to alcohol use or other behaviors.

A number of states require health care professionals to report or test for prenatal drug exposure, which can be used as evidence in child-welfare proceedings. And in order to receive federal child abuse prevention funds, states must require health care providers to notify child protective services when the provider cares for an infant affected by illegal substance abuse. Finally, a number of states have placed a priority on making drug treatment more readily available to pregnant women, which is bolstered by federal funds that require pregnant women receive priority access to programs.”

The summary includes a checklist of which states consider substance abuse during pregnancy as child abuse or grounds for civil commitment, which states require reporting or testing when substance misuse is suspected, and which states have specific programs for pregnant women who use substances and give pregnant women priority access to general programs.

For more on the criminalization of prenatal substance use and legal issues related to FASD prevention, see earlier posts: