An almost unbelievable trend towards the criminalisation, persecution, over-regulation and management of pregnant women who use drugs, is taking place across the US. Tomorrow marks a particularly disturbing day as we watch court proceedings in the state of New Jersey unfold in what could be a massively dangerous and regressive step in the provision of caring for opiate dependent pregnant women.
Another Nail in the Coffin in the Rights of Pregnant Women
Tomorrow may see yet one more nail in the coffin of the reproductive rights of pregnant women who use drugs; persecuted, marginalised and criminalised, the USA has become a battle ground for pregnant women where the rights of the fetus is effectively trumping the rights of the pregnant mother. Women, who, for a single positive drug test can end up not just losing custody of their children, but are then reported without their consent to child welfare and criminal justice services.
Pregnant women and those who give birth, have been arrested, bound up in massively dis-empowering and complex child abuse policies and procedures that they may struggle to fight for years, and finally incarcerated as state after state chooses the rights over the fetus as being more important than the rights of a mother; or more accurately, the rights of low-income, pregnant women of colour. It is a shameful disgrace and a violation of the rights of women on so many levels, it would take the whole article just to list them. Yet US states keep on turning the screws, tighter and tighter.
Methadone for Mothers Maybe Banned
Tomorrow, we will see if it becomes illegal for a pregnant woman to receive legal methadone treatment (OST) whilst she is pregnant. Despite the views of every medical authority the world over who cite the importance of pregnant women who are dependent on opiates, to be transferred to Opiate Substitution Therapy, or methadone maintenance treatment at a stable dose, keeping mother and baby comfortable and out of harms way, at least until the child is born. NAPW, The National Advocates for Pregnant Women, are the extraordinary advocacy group that supports, researches, lobbies, and legally challenges these gross violations of women’s rights.
Below is their article taken from their website NAPW and I urge you to take a look at their website for thorough information about this disturbing trend spreading across the US, and opportunities to take part in supporting their actions to assist and represent women affected by these horrific laws and policies.
I also urge you to watch the court proceedings live on New Jersey’s Supreme Court Webcast, and gain a greater understanding of the issues facing American women who use, occasionally used, once used, legally or illegally used – drugs, whilst pregnant. Note: look out for a blog here this month based on the situation in the USA and how INPUD and its women’s forum INWUD, and the Women and Harm Reduction International Network together with NAPW and others make a submission to the Human Rights Council about the conduct of The United States and its role in violating a woman’s right to bodily autonomy, to family life, to privacy, to due process of law and her ability to be an equal citizen under federal and international law.
Shame on You New Jersey! Shame on the USA! ACT NOW! These type of laws could be coming to a country /state near you.
Will the New Jersey Supreme Court Treat Pregnant Women Separately and Unequally?
Tomorrow, Tuesday September 9, 2014 at 1:00 pm EST, the New Jersey Supreme Court will hear oral argument in New Jersey Department of Youth and Family Services vs. Y.N that will determine whether New Jersey will become the only state in the U.S. to effectively ban pregnant women from receiving methadone treatment.
At the center of the case is a woman, identified by the court as Y.N., who had been struggling with a dependency on a prescribed opioid painkiller. When she found out she was pregnant, she followed medical advice and obtained methadone treatment. She gave birth to a healthy baby who was successfully treated for symptoms of neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS). NAS is a side effect of methadone treatment and other medications, such as those commonly prescribed to treat depression. Y.N. was reported to the Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS) and was judged to have abused her child.
The fact that Y.N. was following a medically approved and prescribed course of methadone treatment was deemed to be irrelevant.
According to DYFS and the lower court, that the newborn experienced symptoms of NAS — which they define as “harm” — was all that matters. The fact that Y.N. was following a medically approved and prescribed course of methadone treatment was deemed to be irrelevant.
NAPW with Lawrence S. Lustberg of Gibbons P.C., represents 76 organizations and experts in maternal, fetal, and child health, addiction treatment, and health advocacy as amici curiae (friends of the court) before the New Jersey Supreme Court. As the brief points out, DYFS’s position and the lower court’s decision fly in the face not only of the recommendations of the World Health Organization and the U.S. government, but of New Jersey’s own policy. DYFS, the very same agency that targeted Y.N., collaborates with the New Jersey Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services to provide and prioritize methadone treatment for pregnant women and parents involved in the child welfare system.
Tomorrow, September 9, 2014, Mr. Lustberg will urge the court to ensure that pregnant women, no less than others, have a right to seek and obtain medical care and to have decisions about them based on science, not stigma.
Oral arguments are open to the public, but if you are unable to make it to Trenton, NJ please join our Director of Legal Advocacy, Sara Ainsworth, in viewing the live webcast. It will be accessible via the New Jersey Supreme Court’s webcast site. We will be tweeting on the hashtag #ScienceNotStigma to answer your questions about the proceedings.
Pregnant women, whether threatened with punishment through civil child welfare actions in New Jersey or arrest in Tennessee (see “The right’s favorite new quack: Terri Lynn Weaver’s dangerous baby ‘science'”), need NAPW’s support and zealous advocacy.