Drug Abuse and Pregnancy: Give Them Help, or Jail Time?

pregnant woman holding prescription drugs

During a prenatal appointment, if the mother-to-be admits that she’s had a drug problem but is sure this pregnancy will motivate her to stay clean, what should the doctor do? Report her, or get her help and hope she doesn’t use?

The National Advocates for Pregnant Women (NAPW) have filed a challenge with federal courts after Alicia Beltran, “a Wisconsin woman who confessed during a prenatal appointment that she was recovering from an addiction to painkillers,” was arrested. The law they are disputing “protects any pregnancy from the moment of conception from a pregnant person who ‘habitually lacks self-control in the use of alcohol or controlled substances,’” according to this article.

While you are pregnant, the safety of the baby you are carrying is of upmost importance. 

The NAPW feels that many states are going out of their way to charge pregnant women who are currently using drugs, as well as pregnant women with a history of drug abuse.

NAPW’s Executive Director Lynn Paltrow even said, “This kind of dangerous, authoritarian state-action, is exactly what happens when laws give police officers and other state actors the authority to treat fertilized eggs, embryos, and fetuses as if they are already completely separate from the pregnant woman.”

Another example this group gives is of a woman in Alabama who is “being actively sought by the police” because she gave birth to a baby that tested positive for opiates and cocaine. According to the group, the police want to indict her for “chemical endangerment of exposing a child to an environment in which controlled substances are produced or distributed.” (It’s also important to note that, after giving birth, she left her baby at the hospital.)

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Should an unborn baby be seen as a person, separate from the mother? Or should an unborn baby, who hasn’t taken a breath outside of the womb, be considered part of the mother, and not a separate being at all? If her unborn baby had been a walking, talking toddler, than this Alabama woman would have absolutely exposed her child to an endangered environment. But, didn’t she also do that to the unborn baby? Worse. Because the baby was still inside of her, the fetus was exposed in a much more dangerous way. The unborn baby became a drug user too. Right? Or am I completely wrong?

The article maintains that “arresting a pregnant person who may have a drug problem does little to address the underlying reason for the addiction and could cause further physical harm to the fetus … If a pregnant woman doing drugs willingly leaves behind a child she cannot or does not feel she can care for, that is in the infants best interest. If she is worried that she could be arrested if she leaves him or her behind, she may take the child with her, putting his or her life in danger.”


Do you agree?

Do you feel the laws should focus on getting these mothers-to-be help; or do you think the laws are right, and the mothers-to-be should face jail time?

What do you think?

Drug Abuse and Pregnancy: Give Them Help, or Jail Time?

Kimberly Shannon is a wife, a mother, an editor, a writer ... She is always working to find the perfect balance¹! After Kimberly received her bachelor’s degree in Journalism, she worked on two master’s degree programs (Creative Writing, and Marriage and Family Therapy). At various times in her life she has signed up to study Naturopathy, only to back out at the last minute, and humored the idea of returning full-time to the world of dance. Kimberly has also started 10 different children ... More

Tell us what you think!


  1. Juli says:

    This is like something from “A Handmaid’s Tale”! I am a mother, too. And I adore my child. But I am a human being first & NOT just a walking incubator.
    Plus, by threatening women with prison, you are just guaranteeing they will be afraid to confide or even go to their doctor. At what point does a women loose all her rights as a free citizen? Upon he fertility?

    “No woman can call herself free who does not control her own body.”
    ~Margaret Sanger

  2. debbie says:

    I think they should absolutely give everyone a chance!! please help all these woman!

  3. Tessa says:

    I believe that every person’s situation is different and specific to them and their life choices. I think each woman who has an addiction when pregnant should be given the opportunity to get the help she needs to overcome the addiction. If she isn’t given the opportunity to get clean and is arrested instead, isn’t the person who performed the arrest responsible for endangerment to the baby? There is always a good, better, best option. If the woman is willing to get the help she needs, she should be given to the chance. Automatically putting someone into jail isn’t always the best option.

  4. debbie says:

    I’m not to proud to say this but when I got pregnant with my son I was addicted to opiates. As soon as I found out I was pregnant I got into the suboxone program and they put me on subutex which is suboxone for pregnant woman just one less chemical… subutex treats opiate dependence. Withdrawing while pregnant can be very dangerous! All 50 states offer this program. Yes, when my son was born almost 4 months ago he came out positive for subutex but all my doctors new this.. so they were ready to take care of his needs… I have the department of children and families in my life now since my son was born because he had to withdraw from the subutex. {That was the worst 2 weeks of my life!} I stayed in the hospital with him in the NICU the whole time I left twice the whole time to shower and I went right back.. I also only breastfeed my son. my son is the most amazing, perfect little boy! Anyways as a woman who has went through this and still going through this I think they should have a flat out choice either get help while your pregnant to move into a better future for you and your child and be followed up with by DCF, place your baby up for adoption when it is born if you feel like you don’t want or can take care of it, or face jail when your baby is born. Their are way to many programs and options out there to do that to your child. yes the baby is a living human being while it is inside of you. while it is inside of the woman is when it is the most important time. never mind when the baby is born, you can do irreversable harm! somebody needs to stand up for the baby’s rights! By the way I’ve been clean for almost 14 months and have never been happier! my son is the light of my life! A true blessing! Sorry for all the blabber!

    • Christina says:

      Hugs…I was on subutex also but fortunately my son tested negative for it so he didnt have any withdrawels and I got to take him home with me….and your blabber is good. Well stated. 🙂

  5. Christina says:

    I had a baby 9 mths ago and I was addicted to painkillers that were given to me by a doctor. I was on them for tooth problems and then for something else and before I knew it I was addicted. I told my dr right away and he said I could not just stop taking anything because I could miss carry the baby so he put me on subutex ( a form of suboxone without the naloxolene which is dangerous for fetus, I was only taking a 1/4 of a 1/4 of 1 8 miligram tablet but it was enough to keep me from withdrawing which could cause micarriage. The amount I was taking didnt reach the fetus and I had a beautiful smart handsome baby boy. He is 9 mths and doing great. I know professional “good” people that are addicted to painkillers. It happens easily if you have a doctor that will prescribe them for just about anything. Now I would like to say that I think if the mom is using “street” drugs then thats a different story all together. I would also like to mention that I am a homeschooling mom that goes to Sunday School every week plus Sunday reg svc twice and Weds night service, I am a loving Christian mom who had stinky doctor. I didnt even know you COULD get addicted to painkillers until it was too late. So before you talk about something that you have never went through you shouldnt judge.

  6. Yes, I agree…. but don’t you think in this case if soon to be mother’s that are chemically dependent, thought they may face jail time due to admitting they have a problem, in my opinion would actually stop them from admitting the need help in the first place. It would to me be far more harmful to the unborn child. I’m absolutely not saying I would condone this issue but, instead of “threatening” jail time for this behavior, physicians and law enforcement should be more willing to help addicted mothers to solve the problem from where it began.

  7. Felicia says:

    I think the mother that is an chemical dependency person while being pregnant shall seek or be given a chance @ becoming a better person for herself as well as a future parent. I don’t think it’s right choosing to do negative actions while pregnant like for example drugs, alcohol, pills-narcotics! But I believe a person does in there mind want what’s right for their child. Sometimes a person needs a little push or a shove in the right direction can do wonders for an individual. The thought or sight of someone taking time to care for another person helps and can give motivation to a person in need. I guess I’m trying to say is yeah I think a soon to be mother just needs a little guidance and given a chance @ a better future for herself and soon to be bundle of joy. But then again everyone is entitled to their own opinion.


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