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July 12, 2010

Health Experts Warn Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals That Prosecuting Pregnant Women As Drug Labs Is Bad For Babies

MONTGOMERY, ALABAMA- On Friday, attorneys asked the court for permission to file an amicus curiae (friend-of-the-court) brief in the case A.K. v. Alabama (Docket: CR-09-0485) on behalf of twenty-four public health advocates, organizations and experts. This public health brief has been filed in support of A.K., who was convicted under Alabama’s chemical endangerment law because she attempted to carry her pregnancy to term in spite of a drug problem.

In 2005, Alabama passed a “chemical endangerment” law that was designed to provide special criminal penalties for parents who allow their children in or around methamphetamine labs. Almost immediately, several Alabama district attorneys interpreted the new law to create a new criminal penalty for women who became pregnant and sought to continue to term in spite of a drug problem. More than 25 women have been prosecuted under the chemical endangerment law because they continued their pregnancies in spite of a drug problem.

This policy is a misguided attempt to protect children from what many believe are the devastating effects of illegal drug use. Fortunately, as the brief describes and the South Carolina Supreme Court recently unanimously acknowledged, the scientific research in this area shows that the effects of drug use during pregnancy are comparable to those of smoking cigarettes, and are, in fact, akin to the risks presented by many common conditions and experiences of pregnant women.

The brief argues that the prosecution and conviction of A.K. violates the plain language and intent of
Alabama’s chemical endangerment statute, is unsupported by scientific research, is contrary to the consensus judgment of medical practitioners and their professional organizations, and undermines individual and public health. It urges the Court to refuse the prosecutorial invitation to judicially expand the chemical endangerment law and requests that the Court overturn A.K.’s conviction.

The organizations and experts who filed this brief are: The American Public Health Association; National Association of Social Workers; Alabama Women’s Resource Network; American Academy of Addiction Psychiatry; American Society of Addiction Medicine; Center for Gender and Justice; Child Welfare Organizing Project; Citizens for Midwifery; Global Lawyers and Physicians; The Institute for Health and Recovery; International Center for Advancement of Addiction Treatment; National Association of Nurse Practitioners in Women’s Health; National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence; National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health; National Organization for Women (NOW)- Alabama ; National Women’s Health Network; Our Bodies Ourselves; The Southern Center for Human Rights; Nancy Day MPH., PhD.; Deborah A. Frank, M.D.; Leslie Hartley Gise, M.D.; Stephen R. Kandall, M.D.; James Nocon, M.D., J.D.; Linda L.M. Worley, MD.

Attorneys on the case include Mary Bauer of the Southern Poverty Law Center, Tamar Todd of the Drug Policy Alliance, Kathrine Jack, and Lynn Paltrow, both of National Advocates for Pregnant Women (NAPW). A special thanks also goes out to the law student summer Interns, Jolene Forman of DPA and Amanda Melnick, Rush Miller, and Noor Kapoor of NAPW.