Pregnant women jailed for drug use to protect fetuses, Alabama County says

It was Ashley Banks‘ alleged use of marijuana during her pregnancy that landed her in an Alabama jail in May. And it was a drug program’s decision that she wasn’t eligible for treatment that kept her there.

Banks, 23, was charged with chemical endangerment of a child after police allegedly found marijuana on her during a traffic stop, her lawyers wrote in court papers. She admitted she had smoked marijuana the day she learned she was pregnant – two days earlier – but says in court records that was before she confirmed her pregnancy.

Banks’ statement to police, however, subjected her to what her lawyers say is a policy in Etowah County, northeast Alabama: nearly all pregnant or postpartum women who are accused of drug-endangering their fetus must remain in prison until they complete drug treatment. program, without assessing whether this condition suits them.

The policy, previously reported by, kept Banks in the Etowah County Detention Center for three months as she suffered severe vaginal bleeding and two ER visits that left her frightened by her high pregnancy. risk. A court-contracted addiction agency twice told her she was ineligible for treatment because she was not addicted to drugs, leaving her in limbo until a judge granted him his release on August 25 on terms that did not include drug treatment.

The Etowah County District Attorney’s Office did not respond to a request for an interview, but said in a similar case that the county’s request for drug treatment as a bail condition was to protect the fetus.

“The objective of the state and the courts of this jurisdiction has been to try to – to try to have children born [safely]; that mothers who are – who test positive during pregnancy have the opportunity to seek treatment so that we can have a healthy relationship afterwards,” Assistant District Attorney Carol Griffith said during a hearing last month. last, according to a transcript.

They have lost pregnancies for obscure reasons. Then they were prosecuted.

Prosecutors across the country routinely bring criminal charges against pregnant women accused of drug use, arguing that such cases encourage them to seek help and protect their fetuses. But the non-profit legal organization National Advocates for Pregnant Women calls Etowah County “ground zero for the criminalization of pregnancy” for its number of lawsuits – more than 150 over the past decade – and their frequency. increasing in recent years. The lawsuits also reflect how struggles to restrict abortion, which recently led to the fall of Roe vs. Wadeencouraged the fetal rights movement to press charges against pregnant women who use drugs.

Alabama’s “Chemical Child Endangerment” law was passed in 2006 to target people who turn their homes into meth labs, putting their children at risk. Prosecutors quickly began enforcing the law against women who exposed their fetuses to the drug, particularly after the Alabama Supreme Court upheld the practice in 2013.

“The purported justification for the prosecution is that it is necessary to protect ‘unborn’ and born children of women,” said Emma Roth, an attorney at the National Advocates for Pregnant Women. “When the reality is: it endangers the health and well-being of these women, as well as their pregnancies and their children.”

Prisons can be dangerous environments for pregnant women, wrote Carolyn Sufrin, director of the Advocacy and Research Program on the Reproductive Well-Being of Incarcerated Persons at Johns Hopkins University, in a court filing supporting Banks. Poor food options, unsanitary spaces and lack of access to medical care, she said, can put the physical and mental health of women and their fetuses at risk. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists opposes the criminalization of women for behavior that allegedly harms their pregnancy.

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The Etowah County Sheriff’s Office did not respond to a request for an interview about prison medical services. Josh Morgan, a spokesman for the sheriff’s office, told that women charged with chemical endangerment receive the same medical evaluation as other inmates and are then referred to obstetricians.

Another woman from that county, Hali Burns, says she was taken to hospital six days after giving birth due to two positive drug tests during her pregnancy. Her lawyers argue in court that she has a prescription for one of the drugs she tested positive for – Subutex, which treats opioid addiction – and that her sinus medication caused her to be falsely tested positive for methamphetamine. She tested negative for drugs at the time of delivery.

Burns, 34, was arrested on July 12 due to the positive tests and separated from her newborn son and eldest daughter, according to court records. His bail conditions include inpatient drug treatment and $10,000 cash bond, another common requirement in chemical endangerment cases.

Although Burns was considered a candidate for a residential treatment center, according to her attorneys, she was told a bed would not be available for weeks. She eventually learned that a bed had become ready for her but she was not allowed to enter the program because she would have had another positive drug test.

“In this case, I think the fact that we actually have another subsequent positive drug test is just further evidence that this is someone who desperately needs the help we have. offer here,” Griffith told Burns in an Aug. 18 hearing. Case.

Morgan Cunningham, a lawyer for Burns, argued that the bail was intended to protect members of the community and ensure a defendant shows up for trial. Burns, he said, are neither dangerous nor a flight risk.

“The purpose of the link is not punishment,” Cunningham said. “And, you know, some people might see the opportunity to go to rehab as a reward. The point of the bond isn’t the reward either.

A judge has refused to review Burns’ bail conditions and she remains in custody, away from her two children.

“Courts and prosecutors hurt the very people they claim to help,” Roth said. “And at the same time, they deprive these women of their freedom.”

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