Punishing Pregnant Drug-Using Women: Defying Law, Medicine, and Common Sense

June 14, 2010

Jeanne Flavin, PhD
Lynn M. Paltrow, JD

Journal of Addictive Diseases, Volume 29 Issue 2 2010
Special issue on Women, Children and Addiction

The arrests, detentions, prosecutions, and other legal actions taken against drug-dependent pregnant women distract attention from significant social problems, such as our lack of universal health care, the dearth of policies to support pregnant and parenting women, the absence of social supports for children, and the overall failure of the drug war. The attempts to “protect the fetus” undertaken through the criminal justice system (as well as in family and drug courts) actually undermine maternal and fetal health and discourage efforts to identify and implement effective strategies for addressing the needs of pregnant drug users and their families. In this article, the authors seek to expose some of the flawed premises on which the arrests, detentions, and prosecutions are based. The authors highlight the inherent unfairness of a system that expects low-income and drug-dependent pregnant women to provide their fetuses with the health care and safety that these women themselves are not provided and have not been guaranteed.