Responding to the Arrests of Pregnant Women in Alabama

October 13, 2010

In 2008, Amanda K. was six months pregnant and went into early labor with a prolapsed umbilical cord. She went to a local hospital for care where she underwent emergency cesarean surgery to facilitate delivery of her son. Unfortunately, her son, delivered prematurely, died shortly after delivery.

Ms. K and her family were devastated by the loss. But, rather than providing the support and compassionate care she and her family needed, the hospital drug tested her. The positive result was used as a basis for reporting her to the police and having her arrested for the crime of “chemical endangerment” of a child. Ms. K was convicted and sentenced to 10 years in prison. She is currently out on bail while she challenges the charge and raises her two older children and a beautiful nine-month old.

Ms. K is one of at least 35 pregnant women in Alabama who have been charged with the crime of “chemical endangerment.” Most of these women have given birth to healthy children but were arrested when they carried their pregnancies to term in spite of a drug problem. Some, like Ms. K, have suffered losses that we know, as a matter of science, have nothing to do with the use of illegal drugs.

In 2006, the Alabama Legislature passed a “chemical endangerment” law that was designed to provide special criminal penalties for “responsible persons” who allow their children in or around methamphetamine labs. Some Alabama district attorneys believe that a pregnant woman is no different than a drug lab and are arguing that the word “child” in Alabama’s chemical endangerment law (and all of Alabama’s criminal laws) should be judicially re-written to include embryos and fetuses.

The director of the Alabama Women’s Resource Network, Catherine Roden-Jones, recently published a commentary about these cases, in which she explains,

Women, upon becoming pregnant, do not suddenly have greater access to health care, better housing, safer environments or enhanced capacity to overcome behavioral health problems such as addiction. Any woman in Alabama looking to overcome substance use can attest to the difficulty in finding a treatment center they can afford, that will provide child care, and that is local to their place of residence and job. How can we prosecute those whom we have only just begun to help by way of services and outreach?

Responding to widespread concerns about issues involving pregnant women, children, and drug use, the Alabama Women’s Resource Network, Alabama Voices of Recovery, and National Advocates for Pregnant Women are sponsoring a continuing education program called “Drugs, Pregnancy, and Parenting: What the Experts in Medicine, Social Work and the Law Have to Say.” National and local experts including scientific researcher and pediatrician Dr. Deborah Frank, obstetrician Dr. Curtis Lowery, social work researcher Dr. Brenda Smith of University of Alabama (UAB), and Tajuan McCarty, a mother in recovery and director of the treatment community called Neighborhood House will be presenting.

The program will be held this Friday, October 15, 2010 in Birmingham, Alabama.
More information about "Drugs, Pregnancy, and Parenting: What the Experts in Medicine, Social Work and Law Have to Say" available here.

This map marks the counties in which these arrests have taken place.