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 →
Today, a coalition of 48 reproductive justice, drug policy reform, women’s rights, and civil liberties organizations sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder calling on the U.S. Department of Justice to renounce enhanced criminal penalties for women on the basis of pregnancy. The letter was co-signed by organizations in 17 states and the District of Columbia.
In the case at issue, Lacey Weld pled guilty to the crime of conspiracy to manufacture methamphetamine. According to a statement issued by U.S. Attorney William C. Killian of the Eastern District of Tennessee, she was given an enhanced sentence-an additional six years in federal prison-because she was pregnant at the time she committed the crime.
The coalition demonstrates in its strongly worded letter that an enhanced sentence based on pregnancy is contrary to the Obama Administration’s commitment to rational and just sentencing policies, women’s reproductive and civil rights, and the health and well-being of children and families. The letter also makes clear that this position is contrary to the Obama Administration’s stated support for science and evidence-based research as the basis for public policy. Continue reading →