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MO Child Abuse Bill Might Not be Deterrent to Moms' Drug Use

Women who abuse drugs when they're pregnant could be charged with child abuse under legislation being considered in Missouri. (Amberlyn Yancey)
Women who abuse drugs when they're pregnant could be charged with child abuse under legislation being considered in Missouri. (Amberlyn Yancey)
March 2, 2016

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. - A Missouri mother could be charged with child abuse for using drugs during pregnancy, under House Bill 1903. She'd face misdemeanor charges if the child is hurt, and a felony if the baby died as a result of her drug use.

Christi Power, who heads the nonprofit "Preferred Family Health," a statewide program for treatment of substance abuse or mental-health issues, said she understands that the point of the legislation is to protect unborn babies, but thinks it could backfire, making women who are addicted too afraid to see a doctor.

"You've got moms that are already frightened, worried that their babies are going to be removed when they go see their doctors," she said. "And then you add this punishment on top of that, and then you've got them really not seeking the medical services that they might need, or seeking the substance-abuse services that might keep them clean throughout their pregnancy."

The legislation has been referred to a House committee, but no hearing date has been set. The bill's author, Rep. Jered Taylor, R-Nixa, expects it to come up before the session ends in mid-May.

Power said using drugs already is illegal, and adding charges against a mom who abuses won't solve the problem.

"They're not thinking, 'Oh, I want to harm my child.' They have a substance use disorder," she said, "where their brain has changed, how they function changed, due to their use."

Power said she believes drug abuse is on the rise in Missouri and calls the heroin problem in the state "an epidemic." Getting these women into treatment and figuring out what's triggering the abuse is crucial, she said.

"Whether they've decided to use because it's a coping skill. Do they have trauma in their history? Is this the only way they've been able to wake up every day and go on with their life? We don't know those answers," she said.

Details of HB 1903 are online at house.mo.gov.

Veronica Carter, Public News Service - MO