Drugs + Pregnancy = Prison in Alabama
Beware of zealots. Today's zealot is Greg Gambril, the district attorney in rural Covington County, Alabama, who is making a name for himself by prosecuting women who use drugs during their pregnancies.
Over an 18-month period, at least eight women have been prosecuted for using drugs while pregnant in this rural jurisdiction of barely 37,000, a tally without any recent parallel that women’s advocates have been able to find.
Gambril's prosections are likely to convince drug using women to avoid seeking medical care during their pregnancies, lest they face imprisonment. Physician-patient privilege assures that won't happen, you think?
Police affidavits make it clear that local doctors are cooperating in these investigations.
Separating women from their newborn children doesn't promote "family values" -- it simply prevents mother and child from bonding during the child's critical formative years. Sensible alternatives would focus on helping women, not sending them to prison.
It isn't at all clear that the prosecutions are consistent with the law upon which Gambril relies: [more...]
Mr. Gambril makes little distinction between fetus and child. He said his duty was to protect both — though the Alabama law he uses makes no reference to unborn children, and was primarily intended to protect youngsters from exposure to methamphetamine laboratories.
This is Gambril's simple-minded reasoning:
“When drugs are introduced in the womb, the child-to-be is endangered,” Mr. Gambril said. “It is what I call a continuing crime.” He added that the purpose of the statute was to guarantee that the child has “a safe environment, a drug-free environment.”
“No one is to say whether that environment is inside or outside the womb,” he said, and no judge or other authority in Alabama has so far disagreed.
"No one is to say?" Consider this:
In Maryland, the state’s highest court in 2006 threw out the convictions of two women whose babies were born with cocaine in their bloodstreams, ruling that punishment was not the right deterrent. Last year, the New Mexico Supreme Court rejected a woman’s child-abuse conviction in a similar case, declaring a fetus was not a child.
If Gambril is correct in his assessment of the law, why isn't he prosecuting women who smoke tobacco or drink alcohol during their pregnancies? Aren't those actions just as likely to disturb the "safe environment" that, in Gambril's view, a womb is legally obligated to provide? Perhaps because, as the Times article notes, Gambril is focusing on a population that isn't affluent, that lacks the resources to mount a strong defense to his vicious abuse of the law. Remember:
The war on drugs has always been a war on the poor ... [I]t is clear that drug use and drug users have played a very important role in defining women's and children's poverty as an individual behavioral problem rather than the result of systematic, structural economic inequities.
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