Jay Harris, Big Horn County Attorney, has announced a “crackdown policy” that targets pregnant women who use alcohol or drugs. Nine organizations who advocate for the health and safety of pregnant woman have voiced their opposition of this policy, which places the health of pregnant women and their families at risk while failing to address the issue of addiction and rehabilitation.

Policies such as Harris’s have no positive impact on the health and wellbeing of pregnant women. These cruel policies will foster a climate of anxiety and mistrust between doctors and patients and will drive women away from the health care and treatment they need.

It is unsurprising that Harris reported he did not have any statistics supporting the adoption of this policy.

“Every major medical group tasked with addressing the problems associated with drug and alcohol use during pregnancy—including the American Medical Association, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Nurses Association, and the March of Dimes—opposes criminal or civil charges against pregnant women. Such charges undermine maternal and fetal health,” said Martha Stahl, President and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Montana. “Experts recognize that drug dependency is a medical condition and public health issue requiring treatment – not punishment.” 

 “As well as being counterproductive, punitive, and showing a disturbing lack of compassion, Harris’s proposed policy is unconstitutional,” said Caitlin Borgmann, Executive Director of the ACLU of Montana. “Both the Constitution and sound evidence tell us that medical decisions should be made between a woman and her doctor, not by prosecutors.”

Montana law is clear that a county attorney may not restrain or incarcerate pregnant women based on alleged harm to the embryo or fetus. In 2014, a prosecutor in Ravalli County similarly attempted to abuse his position by charging a pregnant woman who tested positive for drugs with criminal endangerment, only to have a court throw out the charges.

The ACLU of Montana has outlined in a demand letter how Harris’ policy violates, at a minimum, Montana’s constitutional protections for privacy, equal protection, dignity and due process, as well as the Montana Human Rights Act’s prohibitions on discrimination based on sex and pregnancy. If Harris attempts to enforce his policy, the ACLU of Montana is prepared to challenge his actions in court.

The nine organizations condemn this “crackdown” as an attack on constitutional and human rights that threatens the health and wellbeing of pregnant women in Montana and their families.

 

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