Indiana AG's Comments Spark Debate Over Mandatory Drug Testing for Pregnant Women

September 27, 2013 — Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller (R) is facing criticism over comments suggesting that he supports mandatory drug testing for pregnant women as a way to reduce exposure to prescription drugs, the Indiana Star reports.

Zoeller -- who chairs the state's Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention Task Force -- has been speaking publicly about his desire to reduce the incidence of neonatal abstinence syndrome, which can affect newborns whose mothers misused prescription drugs while pregnant (Berggoetz, Indiana Star, 9/25). According to Zoeller, hospitals in the state spent about $30 million in 2011 to treat the disorder (Chang, WSBT, 9/17).

Radio Show Comments

As part of his public awareness efforts, Zoeller appeared on a TV talk show, "P-I Live," where he was asked about the legality of mandatory testing.

Zoeller responded, "Well, it is legal," noting that pregnant women already receive routine blood tests to check for other health issues. He said, "I'm asking that they do another screen to see if you are addicted to opiates or other things that would harm you as well as the baby." He added, "The doctor really ought to know that, and ... a lot of what we hear is the women who are pregnant will lie about having a drug problem and (doctors) don't know about it until the baby is born addicted."

Petition Drive

The comments prompted the websites RH Reality Check and MoveOn to create a petition -- which has more than 3,500 signatures -- calling on Zoeller to issue a public apology and stop promoting the idea (Indiana Star, 9/25).

Zoeller's office released a statement, saying, "The attorney general's comments should not be interpreted to imply that he supports mandatory opioid testing of any kind for pregnant women -- he does not." It added that a task force "is currently working on viable solutions to address the spike in NAS cases in Indiana and plans to put forth a series of recommendations in the next few months for the Legislature to consider" (WSBT, 9/17).

Sue Ellen Braunlin -- co-president of the Indiana Religious Coalition for Reproductive Justice -- said she is concerned that mandatory testing could have criminal consequences for women and scare them away from prenatal care. Braunlin said a better alternative would be to have pregnant women take written screening tests that assess their risk of prescription drug misuse and ask those who are deemed to be at a high risk to take a blood test (Indiana Star, 9/25).