Mother’s Day evokes handmade cards from grade school kids to their moms, flowery cards to new moms, and loving cards for years of devotion to mothers from their adult children. For mothers who grapple with substance use the desire to do right by their children is complicated by the weight of addiction, which can tear families apart.
Making a documentary about a treatment program that helps mothers with substance use disorders keep their children is important to filmmaker, Sheila Ganz. In 1969, Ganz was an unwed mother. She became pregnant as the result of being raped. Her parents wanted her to go into a home for unwed mothers in Boston. Ganz didn’t want to go there. So she got a job, saved her money, bought a car and headed out for Los Angeles. She totaled her car just east of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and was pinned under the car with a fractured pelvis at five months pregnant. After being in the hospital, she went into a Booth Memorial Home for Unwed Mothers. Ganz was not given a choice and unwillingly relinquished her newborn daughter for adoption. “Losing my daughter felt like an amputation. I lived for the day when I would find her and tell her I love her.” Continue reading →
Every 19 minutes, a baby is born in America to a mother who struggles with opiate addiction, a percentage that has soared in the past decade alongside a broader addiction spike. The increase has forced some state lawmakers to decide whether the mother’s drug use, which can leave the baby with post-birth withdrawal called neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS), is a criminal justice issue or a disease.
As with heroin and opioid addiction outside of pregnancy, the consensus among doctors and advocates is that this is a health matter, and not one for the courts. (NAS is a highly treatable condition without long-term effects, though it’s still an unfortunate one: newborns with NAS convulse, projectile vomit and emit a telltale shriek.) President Obama agrees – he recently announced an increase in funds dedicated to treatment, and an increase in the number of patients a doctor can treat with some maintenance medications.
State lawmakers, on the other hand, are still learning. They tend to default to treating it as a crime, only to find that doesn’t work. Continue reading →
Cynthia Greenlee, National Advocates for Pregnant Women
Phone: 212-255-9252, ext. 38
NAPW marks 2 legal victories in states that have incarcerated women
based on pregnancy and drug-use claims
Appeal will free Arkansas woman, Wisconsin case moves forward
NEW YORK – On Oct. 8, the Arkansas Supreme Court reversed the conviction of Melissa McCann Arms, who was sentenced to 20 years imprisonment for introducing a controlled substance into the body of another person when she gave birth in 2013. The Arms v. State of Arkansas victory comes a week after a federal district court ruling that allowed a constitutional challenge to the 1997 Wisconsin “cocaine mom” law to go forward. Together, the cases represent two important and positive rulings that uphold the rights and health of pregnant women.
In its ruling, the Arkansas Supreme Court concluded that the intent of Arkansas’ law was to prevent the drugging of another person through the use of “knock-out drugs” and not to punish women who become pregnant and deliver despite drug use. Continue reading →
Georgia will no longer require job applicants to disclose their criminal histories on employment forms after Gov. Nathan Deal (R) signed an executive order this week aimed at smoothing the reintegration process for former inmates.
Deal’s order [pdf] applies only to those seeking work with state agencies. It would prohibit those agencies from using a prior criminal history as an automatic disqualifier for job applicants. Those applicants will have the opportunity to discuss their criminal records in person.
The policy is known as “ban the box,” a reference to employment forms that ask about prior criminal convictions. Georgia is the 14th state to adopt the policy, along with states as diverse as Nebraska, New Mexico, California and Hawaii. Nationally, nearly 100 cities, including Washington, D.C., have adopted the same policy. Continue reading →
National Partnership for Women & Families – Women’s Health Policy Report
April 13, 2015 — The risk of legislation aimed at criminalizing fetal homicide in Colorado and other states is that, “without statutory reform, the pregnant woman as a category of victim will remain overlooked, while the fetus gets special protection,” Deborah Tuerkheimer, a law professor at Northwestern University and former assistant district attorney in Manhattan, writes in a New York Times opinion piece.
According to Tuerkheimer, “[l]egally severing a fetus from the pregnant woman has the effect of pitting her interests against the fetus’s” and can make “women criminally responsible, not only for the life of the fetus, but also for its well-being.” For example, Tuerkheimer notes that fetal rights have been used to prosecute pregnant women — particularly those in “vulnerable and marginalized” populations — “for using drugs, refusing a cesarean section, having sex against a doctor’s recommendation and attempting suicide.” Continue reading →
Posted by Michael Botticelli on February 09, 2015 at 05:46 PM EST
Many great movements to change public perception and policy around a public health issue have been fueled by people with a disease speaking out publicly. What is seen as someone else’s problem—someone else’s disease – takes on a new dimension when people speak up about it.
Such was the case when Betty Ford revealed her breast cancer diagnosis and her substance use disorder. Such was the case when Magic Johnson revealed that he was HIV positive, spurring action to stem the AIDS epidemic.
Yet, despite the fact that nearly every family and community in America is affected by a substance use disorder, those fighting to overcome this disease are too often hidden in the shadows of shame and denial. It is whispered about. It is met with derision and scorn. Continue reading →
Health and Human Rights Victory in New Jersey Division of Child Protection & Permanency v. Y.N
Trenton, New Jersey: December 22, 2014, the New Jersey Supreme Court announced its unanimous ruling in New Jersey Division of Child Protection & Permanency v. Y.N. This decision rejects a lower court finding that a mother may be charged with civil child abuse and neglect because her newborn exhibited the transitory and treatable side effects of methadone treatment that the woman received during pregnancy.
At the center of the case is a woman, identified by the court as Y.N., who had been struggling with a dependency on opioid painkillers. When she found out she was pregnant, she followed medical advice and obtained care that included methadone treatment. She gave birth to a healthy baby who was successfully treated for symptoms of neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS), which is a group of side effects that may result from methadone treatment and other medications. As a result of the NAS diagnosis, Y.N. was reported to the Division of Child Protection and Permanency (DCPP, formerly the Division of Youth and Family Services), and was judged to have abused her child because she agreed with her physician’s recommendation and followed the prescribed course of methadone treatment while pregnant.
National Advocates for Pregnant Women with Lawrence S. Lustberg of Gibbons P.C., filed an amicus curiae (friend of the court) brief on behalf of 76 organizations and experts in maternal, fetal, and child health, addiction treatment, and health advocacy. This amicus brief is referred to in the decision as the amicus brief on behalf of “Experts in Maternal and Fetal Health, Public Health, and Drug Treatment.”
Lynn Paltrow, Executive Director of National Advocates for Pregnant Women and co-counsel for amici said, “This is an important victory, making clear that methadone treatment for pregnant women is health care, not harm.”
CHALLENGE FEDERAL COURT DECISION MAKING PREGNANCY THE BASIS FOR INCREASING A FEDERAL PRISON SENTENCE
Friend of Court Brief Filed in Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals Challenges as Unconstitutional and Dangerous to Maternal, Fetal, and Child Health Tennessee District Court Decision to Add Six Years to Lacey Weld’s Sentence
December 9, 2014, National Advocates for Pregnant Women (NAPW) and 99 other organizations and experts filed an amicus curiae (friend of the court) brief in the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in support of Ms. Lacey Weld. Ms. Weld is appealing the decision of a Tennessee federal court to add six years to her prison sentence because she was pregnant at the time she committed a federal offense.
Ms. Weld pled guilty to the crime of conspiracy to manufacture methamphetamine and cooperated with the Department of Justice in its prosecution of others involved in this manufacturing operation. Following her plea, however, federal prosecutors argued that by struggling with addiction and by being in a “volatile” environment with dangerous “fumes” while pregnant, Ms. Weld put her “unborn child” at risk and deserved more punishment than the men who also participated in the manufacturing operation. The federal district court in Tennessee agreed and, in an unprecedented decision, interpreted the Federal Sentencing Guidelines that allow increased penalties for creating “a substantial risk of harm to the life of a minor” to permit increased penalties for women who are pregnant while committing a federal crime. Continue reading →
“Will they take my child?” were the words uttered by Mona from Tennessee at her recent court hearing this July, after being arrested for her baby testing positive for drugs. Mallory Loyola and Jamilah Falls were also both charged with assault after delivering newborns that tested positive for drugs. Alicia Beltran of Wisconsin had disclosed her past experience with addiction to her health provider at a prenatal appointment, but despite being sober for a year, she was consequently arrested for refusing an anti-addiction drug, forced into treatment, and lost her job. These narratives are reflective of a growing policy trend being adopted across states that allows child welfare authorities to force women into treatment or prosecute them if they refuse. Paltrow et al. have documented hundreds of similar cases across the United States where primarily low-income women of color were “detained, arrested or forced to accept medical procedures in the name of fetal protection.”
In the U.S., 5.9% of drug users are pregnant women. Many of these women will encounter stigma and negative messages during pregnancy that will impact their experiences postpartum. As a Masters of Public Health candidate and as an intern at the Homeless Prenatal Program (HPP), a family resource center for low-income communities in the Mission District of San Francisco, I am learning about the importance of the postpartum period and how critical this period is for the life course of women and their children.
Social Worker Stephanie Toomey has witnessed the damaging impact of current approaches to this issue firsthand. Toomey, a former New Beginnings Assistant Program Manager at HPP, has served countless pregnant women who were struggling with substance abuse and navigating various hostile systems for support during their pregnancy. Continue reading →