Friday, May 18, 2012
From the NYT:
There have been approximately 60 chemical-endangerment prosecutions of new mothers in Alabama since 2006, the year the statute was enacted. Originally created to protect children from potentially explosive meth labs, Alabama’s chemical-endangerment law prohibits a “responsible person” from “exposing a child to an environment in which he or she . . . knowingly, recklessly or intentionally causes or permits a child to be exposed to, to ingest or inhale, or to have contact with a controlled substance, chemical substance or drug paraphernalia.”
Criminal convictions of women for their newborns’ positive drug tests are rare in other states, lawyers familiar with these cases say. In most places, maternal drug use is considered a matter for child protective services, not for law enforcement. Advocates for Kimbrough insist that, in any case, Alabama’s chemical-endangerment law was never meant to apply to pregnant women’s drug use. “The words ‘womb,’ ‘uterus,’ ‘pregnant women’ don’t appear in the law,” Ketteringham says. “It was a law meant to protect children from meth labs.” One state legislator has filed an amicus brief, claiming the law was not intended to be used this way, and the Legislature has repeatedly rejected amendments to expand the law’s definition of “child” to explicitly mean “fetus.” But shortly after the law passed, Alabama prosecutors began extending the term “environment” to also mean the “womb,” and “child” to also mean “fetus.” In 2006, Tiffany Hitson was charged with chemical endangerment the day after she gave birth to a baby girl who tested positive for cocaine and marijuana but was otherwise healthy. When that prosecution was successful (Hitson was incarcerated for a year), other counties followed suit, making Alabama the national capital for prosecuting women on behalf of their newborn children.
Read more here.