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NC Moms Could Face Jail Time for Drug Addiction

PHOTO: A bill in the North Carolina State Assembly proposes criminalizing women for using drugs while pregnant. Women advocates insist there's a better way to confront the problem. Photo credit: morguefile.com/larryfarr
PHOTO: A bill in the North Carolina State Assembly proposes criminalizing women for using drugs while pregnant. Women advocates insist there's a better way to confront the problem. Photo credit: morguefile.com/larryfarr
March 25, 2015

RALEIGH, N.C. - North Carolina women who bear a child born addicted to or harmed by drugs could face criminal prosecution, if a bill proposed in the state Assembly passes and is signed into law.

Lynn Shoemaker, advocacy and issues director for Women AdvaNCe, a nonpartisan institute that advocates for women, said she is concerned that the bill, S297, would have a chilling effect on women seeking prenatal care.

"It's going to discourage women from seeking out prenatal care," she said. "If women are actually criminalized for this and they're sitting in jail, how is that helpful? How are they going to provide for their families, for their children?"

Shoemaker also is concerned that the bill would have a disproportionate impact on minority women and those living in poverty. The proposed legislation, sponsored by Sens. Brent Jackson, R-Autryville, and Louis Pate, R-Mount Olive, would give women the option of enrolling in a treatment program while pregnant and remain in the program after delivery to avoid jail time.

Shoemaker and others also are concerned that the bill would be a gateway for other legislation that could further impact the health-care freedom of women.

"When I heard about this," Shoemaker said, "my first response was, 'I'm afraid this is a back door. This is a way for them to start regulating any medications that affect the birth of a child or the development of a fetus.' "

While there is concern about legislation that would criminalize drug addiction, Shoemaker said she wants lawmakers do consider an expansion of programs that get women the help they need, with no strings attached.

"Drug dependency is a medical issue, it's not a criminal issue," she said. "We should be providing opportunities for women with drug addiction to heal."

Tennessee is the only state that has a similar law. One week after the law took effect, a woman was arrested for smoking meth. She is now serving time in a county jail.

The full text of the bill is online at ncleg.net.

Stephanie Carson, Public News Service - NC