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Drug use during pregnancy: Necessary Obligation

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If you have not already done so, it’s a good idea to read the introduction to this discussion first.

An ultrasound image of a baby inside the wombThe anonymous student who started this thread has not given me permission to reprint his words here.

He feels that, although difficult to overcome an addiction, a mother is obligated to all parties involved to stop using drugs while pregnant. Once pregnant, he is concerned that the woman endangers the life of her child, too. While this has similarities to the abortion debate, he sees an important distinction: drugs are illegal and abortion is a woman’s right under current court rulings; drugs are unhealthy and a bad habit, whereas abortion is a personal choice. In his opinion, by not choosing to stop using drugs, the woman shows how little she thinks of the baby and how it will be affected as a result of the drug use. He feels that women who refuse to stop taking drugs or are unable to do so during pregnancy should be penalized since illicit drug use is a crime and hurts the child.

I replied on May 8, 2008 2:07 AM:

Hi. I certainly do understand your frustration with the situation. What type of penalty do you suggest? How and who would be responsible for determining that such a situation has occurred? At what point during or after the pregnancy would you suggest that the penalty be applied?

Already, many women are afraid to go to doctors when they are pregnant except in extreme emergencies. Even though medical professionals are required to render aid regardless of other circumstances, many women fear social stigmas, interference from Social Services or family members finding out. Anything that makes a mother even more afraid of medical professionals is likely to make the situation worse.

Child Protective Services becomes involved in situations where abuse or other child-endangering actions are suspected. They can, and do, remove children from unfit mothers—at least once they are born. I don’t see how they could do more for an unborn child, considering they can’t really separate it from its mother without endangering both lives even more.

Likewise, police and courts have a number of laws they can use to arrest and prosecute drug users. Prison hardly seems like a good place to place mothers addicted drugs. First of all, prisons are not a particularly safe place in general; certainly it would place the developing child in a risky situation (arguably not any more dangerous than a run-down neighborhood with a lot of drug use and other crime). Additionally, prisons are not equipped to handle pregnant women going through detox. The symptoms of withdrawal are often severe and can be violent. Without medical supervision to help wean the woman off the drugs in a controlled manner, an incarcerated drug abuser would likely cause harm to herself and the child.

Rehab would be a better choice, since it helps both the woman and the child. If successful, both would likely have a much better life in the long run. Unfortunately, rehab is not an option the government usually offers for drug abusers. Cost is most likely the cause; paying to keep a person incarcerated for long periods is an acceptable cost to society, but helping people heal themselves is not. (But that’s another topic.)

While it is unconscionable that a woman in her right mind would deliberately expose a developing fetus to harmful drugs, many people abusing drugs cannot really be considered in their right mind. Drug abuse is a very serious condition, and there are no easy ways for people to kick their addictions. While becoming pregnant might give the woman enough incentive to seek assistance, it might not be enough to keep her sober for nine months.

How about this… any woman who is addicted to drugs at the start of pregnancy would receive free rehab IF she turns in her supplier to the police for prosecution? She could kick the habit and help get a pusher off the street. I personally like that idea. I wonder if it would work in the real world? 🙂


A different student who gave permission to reprint her words, but wishes to remain anonymous, replied to me on May 9, 2008 1:52 PM (CC-BY-SA-3.0-US Licensed; read more info):

I like that last thought you had. However, I don’t know if the mother would be willing to give up the supplier of the drugs, mainly because of fear of them finding out it was her. I think the punishment ordeal is very complicated, but maybe its because not enough people are talking about it, or bringing it up. Of course it is so much harder when the pregnant drug addicts are staying in the shadows, in poor communities, where they may not have the money to afford help. I like the idea about free rehab for pregnant mothers. However, for those who are hysterical and refuse such help, I think that family should step in and force them to be in one, if she wants to keep the child, unless she wants to have an abortion. I think that will appeal to most over going to prison, which I agree would not be a safe enough option for the unborn child.


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Introduction | Drugs and Pregnancy?

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Murray, Will (or another student’s name). “Drug use during pregnancy: Necessary Obligation”. Furth and Fortune blog by Will Murray. May 5, 2008. Retrieved .

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