Opinion | Protecting pregnant people from criminalization

A recent Pregnancy Justice report shows an acceleration of criminalization of pregnant people between 2006 and June 2022, leading up to the overturning of Roe v. Wade, with 1,396 reported cases. Nine in 10 of these cases involved allegations of substance use, with a quarter involving legal substances, including prescribed medication. One-third of these arrests were instigated by a medical professional after a patient shared about drug-use history or tested positive during labor and delivery. Major medical professional organizations oppose criminalization because it undermines the patient-provider relationship and deters needed health care.

Though we have an increasing understanding of substance use additionally being a mental health issue, the punitive approaches of the “war on drugs” are now being wielded against pregnant people in the name of protecting fetuses. These are failed policies. Tennessee allowed its law that specifically criminalized drug use during pregnancy to lapse. This misguided law delivered worse health outcomes for women and infants. In Alabama, which is responsible for an inordinate number of pregnancy-related arrests, the Maternal Mortality Review Committee recommended “[decreasing] criminalization measures against pregnant women with substance use disorder” and to increase access to substance-use treatment programs for pregnant women.

Until we stop treating bodies of pregnant people as expendable and ensure non-punitive access to the services they need, we will see these dire outcomes.

Lourdes A. Rivera, New York

The writer is president of Pregnancy Justice.

Source link