February 24, 2007

South Carolina Reverts to its Earlier, Medieval Approach to Drugs and Pregnancy

From AP [and that handy Google cache] via Art Caplan:
AIKEN - A 24-year-old Bath woman pleaded guilty in Aiken County Court recently to using cocaine while pregnant. That is not unusual, but her sentence was: She has to go on birth control. Julie Ann Horton became the first woman in Aiken County ordered to take birth control as part of a plea deal, a stipulation she agreed to so she could avoid jail time. She might not be the last.

Solicitor Barbara Morgan said her office is planning to offer plea deals to drug-addicted women that include birth control requirements, a decision that is being criticized as infringing on a woman's reproductive rights.

"That's like playing God when all you are is a judge," said Charleston attorney Susan Dunn, who has represented women charged with using drugs while pregnant.

However, Ms. Morgan said the new effort is about getting help for a woman's drug problem that has already resulted in her giving birth to a baby who tested positive for those illegal narcotics. It's not about sterilization, she said; the birth control is temporary and as of now, a voluntary part of plea deals.

An expectant mother who is using drugs cannot make the appropriate decisions for the health of her unborn child, she argued.

"Given a choice between drugs and a baby, the drugs always trump," Ms. Morgan said.

In South Carolina, women who deliver drug-positive babies are charged with unlawful conduct by a legal custodian, a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

Ms. Morgan said her office has prosecuted women who have had multiple babies test positive for drugs when they're born, and she predicts many women would agree to go on birth control if offered it as part of a plea deal.

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