The same prosecutor who charged a Ravalli County woman with criminal endangerment for using drugs while pregnant, succeeded one week earlier in preventing her from going to drug treatment because it would interfere with his trial schedule.
Ravalli County Deputy Attorney Thorin Geist charged 21-year-old Casey Allen with criminal endangerment, on August 27, for putting her fetus at risk after she tested positive for illegal drugs the day before. He argued bail high enough to keep her in jail pending trial. “The reality for some of these women is the need for drugs is stronger than any maternal instinct they have,” Geist told Justice of the Peace Jim Bailey, who told Allen he was setting her bail at $100,000 to save her “baby.”
The ACLU of Montana and fellow members of the Montana Reproductive Rights Coalition today roundly criticized the Court for these actions.
There is no legal basis for charging Allen with criminal endangerment of her fetus. Geist and the justice of the peace simply wanted to make a point that they think they know what is best for pregnant women and think they have a right to control them.
Never mind that just six days earlier, Geist successfully argued against Allen’s request for a continuance for her trial to attend drug treatment at the Montana Chemical Dependency Center in Butte, effectively preventing her from getting the treatment she needed and requested.
“In this case, we have this woman who has managed to impregnate herself, plus she’s got these criminal charges. Her decision to have a child in the middle of all this is her decision,” Haynes said. “It’s not society’s responsibility to take up the cause for her decision. So the child to me is pretty immaterial at this point. She can decide how to care for her child. She can decide how to care for her health to ensure she has a healthy child, if she chooses to.”
Geist piled on.
“Apparently the only thing that’s happened here is the defendant now has found out that she’s pregnant and is, apparently, just attempting to delay the trial until the time she when she arguably would appear physically more sympathetic to the jury,” Geist said.
“I mean, somebody like Ms. Allen, it’s pretty obvious that kind of treatment would have been appropriate for a long time,” said Haynes, adding, “I don’t know why I should have to scurry around, change my trial schedule.”
Allen’s defense attorney argued that she had been waiting for a bed at the facility, and had only just found out one was available for her. Geist and District Court Judge James Haynes were unmoved.
Geist and the judges involved in both hearings made their contempt for Allen clear. All condemned her for suffering from addiction and for getting pregnant. None offered her help with her addiction – they sought only to punish.
Prosecuting a woman for criminal endangerment for using drugs while pregnant is a violation of her right to equal treatment under the law. It singles pregnant women out, and treats them differently. A man and a pregnant woman, both arrested for using the same drug at the same time, would not be charged with the same crimes. Equal protection forbids this.
Not only is criminalizing the use of drugs while pregnant unconstitutional, it goes against the recommendations of health care professionals, who universally say that drug addicted women should be treated during pregnancy not criminalized. In fact, tapering off of illegal and prescription drugs – not going cold turkey – is often recommended to combat withdrawal symptoms that can hurt a woman and her pregnancy.
Criminalizing drug addiction serves only to keep women from the health care they need by causing them to avoid prenatal care and health care workers.
Denying Allen the opportunity to attend drug treatment and then penalizing her less than a week later for testing positive for drugs is the height of hypocrisy.