A law prohibiting illegal drug use during pregnancy has been one focus of the regulation of human reproduction. There are those in support of the said policy mainly because illegal drug use during pregnancy might impermissibly increase the likelihood that a consummate harm will occur, and that a pregnant woman both has moral and legal obligations to act in the interests of her child-to-be which the state should uphold. To some degree, politics of sin is an accurate characterization of why people support the law.
Pregnant women who use drugs violate the society’s fundamental cultural beliefs about motherhood. Rather than placing the needs of her child above all else, a pregnant woman who uses drugs is viewed as self-indulgent, placing her desire to get a ‘high’ ahead of the need of her offspring to be born healthy, which is why punishment is deemed appropriate by advocates of the said policy. On the other hand, there are also those that are against such law. The medical establishment, for instance, has been consistently critical of policies that punish women for heir conduct and behavior during pregnancy.
In the United States, the use of proscribed drugs during pregnancy has been the trigger for both criminal prosecution and the court ordered removal of the baby immediately after birth. Prosecutors and law enforcement officials are confused about the most effective strategy for pursuing criminal convictions against pregnant women. It is undoubtedly true that drugs will sometimes harm a developing fetus, although in practice it is difficult to separate the harmful effects of prenatal drug use from the parallel impact of poor nutrition, inadequate prenatal care, sexually transmitted disease and a chaotic lifestyle.
It is also true that a woman’s freedom to take illegal drugs during pregnancy is not a fundamental liberty deserving rigorous legal protection. Nevertheless, using the law to protect fetuses against the women carrying them has, for several reasons, proved to be both illogical and counter productive. First, it is generally supposed that the state’s interest in protecting fetal health becomes weightier the closer the fetus is to term, yet ironically the pregnant woman’s behavior is least likely to have a negative impact upon fetal health during the last weeks of pregnancy (Jackson, 2001).
If criminal sanctions are only able to protect the fetus when it least needs protection, they are plainly a manifestly ineffectual tool. Second, attaching liability to pregnant women users serves as a powerful deterrent to antenatal attendance. Third, the detention of pregnant women is extremely unlikely to benefit the developing fetus. It is, for example, notoriously easy to obtain drugs in prisons. Even if women are successfully removed from drug suppliers, sudden withdrawal can cause spontaneous abortion.
Finally, it is clear that reducing poverty levels and improving access to prenatal care would promote infant health much more effectively and cheaply than the prosecution and incarceration of pregnant drug addicts. Thus, it is clear that the principal purpose of penalizing pregnant illegal drug users is not the promotion of infant health, but rather the punishment of women whose behavior transgresses certain widely shared norms.
More importantly, while the public justification given for such prosecutions is invariably the protection of fetal health, studies of physician’s decisions to test and report women for substance abuse, and of prosecutors’ decisions to pursue these cases demonstrate that the laws are used selectively against black women. Despite strong public support for policies emphasizing punishment, a majority of state legislatures have enacted laws that treat substance abuse by pregnant women as a public health rather than a criminal issue.
This is another way to decrease the use of illegal drugs during pregnancy without adapting such dramatic policy. In extreme cases, confinement in the sort of homelike environment would be justified – the setting should not be a prison but a supportive and educational homelike place that is designed to promote health and growth. In this way, drug-taking is not criminalized, but coercion is used to prevent demonstrable harm. WORK CITED Jackson, E. (2001). Regulating Reproduction: Law, Technology and Autonomy. Portland, Oregon: Hart Publishing.