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.”
100 LEADING EXPERTS AND ORGANIZATIONS
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
New Jersey Civil Child Abuse Laws Do Not Authorize State Jurisdiction Over Pregnant Women; Drug Tests Are Not Predictors of Parenting Ability
For Immediate Release
Contact: Lynn Paltrow 212-255-9252; firstname.lastname@example.org
February 6, 2013
Today, in a major victory for New Jersey’s pregnant women and families, the New Jersey Supreme Court announced a unanimous opinion in New Jersey Division of Youth & Family Services v. A.L. recognizing that the state’s child protection laws do not give the Division of Child Protection and Permanency jurisdiction or control over pregnant women and that positive drug tests on pregnant women and newborns do not alone establish neglect. The court also acknowledgd the concerns of leading medical and public health organizations that application of child protection laws to the context of pregnancy can undermine maternal, fetal, and child health.