There has been an enormous amount of debate and passion as of late – all of it spurred on by one question: what should happen to mothers who give birth to addicted children. Alabama came up with its own solution that involves jail time and bringing criminal charges for using drugs during a pregnancy.
The Official Timeline of Events
Authorities in Etowah County said that Courtney Starr Hyfield-Parker, 26, tested positive for opiates shortly after giving birth to twins – one of whom was stillborn.
Her child that survived the pregnancy has since been transported to a Birmingham hospital. Hyfield-Parker must give a negative drug test before she can be released from jail and, by court order, may not have unsupervised contact with any child under the age of 18.
Her bond was set at $30,000 and she faces two charges of chemical endangerment for exposing her unborn child to an environment in which controlled substances were ingested, produced or distributed.
Punishing Mothers for Endangerment
Several states have made it a priority to start criminally prosecuting mothers who use drugs while pregnant. The move has sparked controversy, driving many to question the law’s ethical issues.
Last May, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam signed a bill into law which gives law enforcement officials the ability to arrest and charge pregnant women with assault if they use an illegal substance while pregnant and the child is either harmed or becomes addicted to the drug. The bill passed through both houses of the Tennessee legislature one month earlier.
The law allows anyone who sought and completed treatment prior to being charged to use that as defense in their case, but it doesn’t guarantee that the charge will be dropped. Last July, 26-year-old Mallory Loyola became the first person in Tennessee to be charged under the new law after she and her newborn baby tested positive for methamphetamines.
What’s the End Game?
“Hopefully, it will send a signal to other women who are pregnant and have a drug problem to seek help,” said Bill Bivens, Sheriff of Monroe County. “That’s what we want them to do.” However, representatives from the American Civil Liberties Union and Planned Parenthood expressed outrage over the new law.
Michael Botticelli, former acting director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, also spoke out against the new law and said it was important “that we create environments where we’re really diminishing the stigma and the barriers, particularly for pregnant women…about their substance abuse disorders.”
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Image Credit: Etowah County Jail