What’s wrong with drug testing pregnant women

The rights of women are under attack in blue states as well as red ones

Topics: women, Drug testing, personhood, Pregnancy, ,

What's wrong with drug testing pregnant women (Credit: angellodeco via Shutterstock)

The New York Daily News’ new analysis of the drug testing of postpartum women in New York City maternity wards — and the neglect proceedings that can follow, often targeting low-income communities — is a reminder that this intersection of the drug war and creeping personhood isn’t limited to red states.

Such testing tends to happen at the discretion of the hospital. “Private hospitals in rich neighborhoods rarely test new mothers for drugs, whereas hospitals serving primarily low-income moms make those tests routine and sometimes mandatory,” concludes The News’ Oren Yaniv. This is true more broadly. According to the National Advocates for Pregnant Women, “More than eighteen states now address the issue of pregnant women’s drug use in their civil child neglect laws, and a growing number of these states make it possible to remove a child based on nothing more than a single positive drug test.”

At least two studies have found that black women and their newborns are far more likely to be tested for drug use — and to be reported for it — than white women, despite similar rates of drug use among the populations. Testing positive for marijuana can unleash a round of child neglect and protection proceedings, though attorneys have presented in court medical testimony that marijuana use, while not exactly beneficial to the fetus, doesn’t actually harm it. And another recent study published in Clinical Chemistry found that infant urine tests were far more likely than adult urine to result in false positives for marijuana.

You Might Also Like

Of course, New York City is still a long way from Alabama, which routinely prosecutes pregnant women who test positive for drug use for “chemical endangerment,” a statute that was initially enacted to protect children from meth labs. According to an April story by Ada Calhoun in the New York Times magazine, about 60 women have been prosecuted under the law, some for using drugs that are more serious and addictive than marijuana. The director of the Center for Study of Children at Risk, Barry Lester, told Calhoun at the time, “I think what you’re looking at here is a failure to understand that addiction is a disease of the brain. You are looking at people who think that these are horrible women who are rationally, willfully hurting their kids, but it’s more complicated than that. Science has shown that addiction is a disease like any other mental illness, and absolutely treatable.”

Emma Ketteringham, an attorney who has represented such women in both Alabama and New York City, took it a step further in the same piece: “The idea that the state needs to threaten and punish women so that they do the right thing during pregnancy is appalling. Everyone talks about the personhood of the fetus, but what’s really at stake is the personhood of women. It starts with the use of an illegal drug, but what happens as a consequence of that precedent is that everything a woman does while she’s pregnant becomes subject to state regulation.” Personhood may not have passed in a single state yet, but that doesn’t mean laws subsuming a pregnant woman’s rights can’t slowly seep in under the appealing guise of child protection.

An Alabama state court has explicitly made the connection between this application of its chemical endangerment law and the tension between a pregnant woman’s rights and that of her fetus. When the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed that the law doesn’t just cover born children but also the unborn, Attorney General Luther Strange declared that “the court has affirmed the value of life, including the lives of unborn children who are, after all, among the most vulnerable members of our society.” The state Supreme Court is considering the case but has yet to issue a ruling.

Irin Carmon

Irin Carmon is a staff writer for Salon. Follow her on Twitter at @irincarmon or email her at icarmon@salon.com.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    Martyna Blaszczyk/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 1

    Pond de l'Archeveche - hundreds thousands of padlocks locked to a bridge by random couples, as a symbol of their eternal love. After another iconic Pont des Arts bridge was cleared of the padlocks in 2010 (as a safety measure), people started to place their love symbols on this one. Today both of the bridges are full of love locks again.

    Anders Andersson/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 2

    A bird's view of tulip fields near Voorhout in the Netherlands, photographed with a drone in April 2015.

    Aashit Desai/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 3

    Angalamman Festival is celebrated every year in a small town called Kaveripattinam in Tamil Nadu. Devotees, numbering in tens of thousands, converge in this town the day after Maha Shivratri to worship the deity Angalamman, meaning 'The Guardian God'. During the festival some of the worshippers paint their faces that personifies Goddess Kali. Other indulge in the ritual of piercing iron rods throughout their cheeks.

    Allan Gichigi/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 4

    Kit Mikai is a natural rock formation about 40m high found in Western Kenya. She goes up the rocks regularly to meditate. Kit Mikai, Kenya

    Chris Ludlow/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 5

    On a weekend trip to buffalo from Toronto we made a pit stop at Niagara Falls on the Canadian side. I took this shot with my nexus 5 smartphone. I was randomly shooting the falls themselves from different viewpoints when I happened to get a pretty lucky and interesting shot of this lone seagull on patrol over the falls. I didn't even realize I had captured it in the shot until I went back through the photos a few days later

    Jassen T./National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 6

    Incredibly beautiful and extremely remote. Koehn Lake, Mojave Desert, California. Aerial Image.

    Howard Singleton/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 7

    Lucky timing! The oxpecker was originally sitting on hippo's head. I could see the hippo was going into a huge yawn (threat display?) and the oxpecker had to vacate it's perch. When I snapped the pic, the oxpecker appeared on the verge of being inhaled and was perfectly positioned between the massive gaping jaws of the hippo. The oxpecker also appears to be screeching in terror and back-pedaling to avoid being a snack!

    Abrar Mohsin/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 8

    The Yetis of Nepal - The Aghoris as they are called are marked by colorful body paint and clothes

    Madeline Crowley/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 9

    Taken from a zodiac raft on a painfully cold, rainy day

    Ian Bird/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 10

    This wave is situated right near the CBD of Sydney. Some describe it as the most dangerous wave in Australia, due to it breaking on barnacle covered rocks only a few feet deep and only ten metres from the cliff face. If you fall off you could find yourself in a life and death situation. This photo was taken 300 feet directly above the wave from a helicopter, just as the surfer is pulling into the lip of the barrel.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>