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Threatening incarceration for pregnant women who drink alcohol

02 March 2018
Volume 26 · Issue 3


A county in the US has declared an intention to prosecute and potentially incarcerate women who consume alcohol or drugs during pregnancy. Andrew Symon explores the legal issues at stake

A recent press release from a county attorney's office in Montana declared that there would be:

‘An immediate crackdown policy of civilly prosecuting any expecting mothers found to be using dangerous drugs or alcohol.’

The press release went on to say that:

‘In the event there are provable violations of any such protective court orders, the State will further prosecute on a contempt basis and seek incarceration in order to incapacitate the drug or alcohol-addicted expecting mother.’

This is a worrying example of attempts to treat a sensitive health issue as a legal matter. There is something of a history of this in the US: several states have policies that create treatment facilities for pregnant women with alcohol problems, but which also use the threat of criminal prosecution (Thomas et al, 2006). Indeed, Lollar (2016) reports that a woman in Tennessee was arrested two days after giving birth and charged with assaulting her newborn child because she had taken narcotics while she was pregnant.

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