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Mo. Lawmaker Proposes Bill To Criminalize Drug Use During Pregnancy

January 6, 2016 — Missouri Rep. Jered Taylor (R) pre-filed a bill (HB 1903) last month that would make it illegal for a pregnant woman to use drugs, the AP/Sacramento Bee reports.

According to the AP/Bee, Taylor in the previous legislative session proposed a similar bill that was passed by a state House committee but did not reach the floor for debate. The state's next legislative session begins Jan. 6 (Aton, AP/Sacramento Bee, 1/4).

Background

According to a report from the Guttmacher Institute, 18 states currently classify drug use by a pregnant woman to be a form of child abuse, and few of those states overlap with the 19 states that have established or funded programs designed to treat pregnant women who use drugs. Specifically, 10 of the 18 states that classify drug use as a form of child abuse have not established drug treatment programs for pregnant women. Similarly, only six of the 15 states that impose mandatory reporting requirements for suspected substance use have funded or established such programs. Further, some states, such as Tennessee, have imposed additional penalties on pregnant women who use drugs.

The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Civil Liberties Union, among other groups, have criticized the penalization of pregnant women for substance use. CDC and ACOG, for example, have urged states to reduce substance use among pregnant women through treatment programs instead. ACOG and ACLU also have noted that laws such as Tennessee's discourage women from seeking prenatal care rather than encouraging them to seek treatment (Women's Health Policy Report, 8/13/15).

Bill Details

The bill would make it a misdemeanor for a Missouri woman to use a controlled substance if she "reasonably should have known" she was pregnant. A pregnant, drug-using woman who miscarries or whose infant dies after birth could face a felony charge of "abuse of an unborn child." Women facing such charges could be referred to a drug court or a court-approved drug treatment program at a judge's discretion.

According to Taylor, the bill would not require pregnant women to be screened for drug use.

Comments

Farah Diaz-Tello, spokesperson for National Advocates for Pregnant Women, said laws criminalizing drug use during pregnancy discourage women from seeking health care. She added that in Tennessee -- the only state to enact such a law thus far -- some women fled the state rather than risk arrest.

According to Diaz-Tello, some state lawmakers propose criminalizing drug use by pregnant women almost every year but such laws usually do not pass (AP/Sacramento Bee, 1/4).