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Women in criminal justice

Image: American Civil Liberties Union

On Tuesday, a bill was proposed in the Senate that would make it a criminal offense for a woman in North Carolina to use drugs while pregnant. The bill, sponsored by Senator Brent Jackson and Senator Louis Pate, would permit a woman to be charged with assault if she uses an illegal narcotic while pregnant and her child is born addicted to or harmed by the drug.

The problems with this bill are numerous.

First, it is obvious that pregnant women who suffer from a drug dependency are less likely to seek prenatal care when they are threatened with prosecution. Studies have shown that prenatal care substantially improves birth outcomes even for pregnant women who continue to use drugs during their pregnancies.

Second, drug dependency is a recognized medical condition that must be treated with proper medical care. Under the threat of prosecution, pregnant women will be less likely to be forthcoming with their doctors about their drug use which will prevent them from getting the help they need and which could negatively affect both the mother and child.

Third, there is evidence that criminalizing drug use during pregnancy would disproportionately affect minority and low income women. Poor women and women of color are more likely to live in areas where they don’t have access to treatment facilities or proper medical help and therefore more likely to be unable to get the help they need during pregnancy.

The only defense to prosecution provided by the bill is for a woman to enroll in an addiction recovery program prior to the birth of the child, remain in the program after delivery and successfully complete the program. In reality, this is often not a viable option for a pregnant woman.  Many treatment programs won’t accept pregnant women or aren’t set-up to adequately meet their needs. Also, particularly in rural areas, there often aren’t treatment centers close by. If legislature really wants to help pregnant woman overcome drug addictions, they should introduce a bill that would provide easy access to helpful and effective drug treatment centers.

Currently, it appears that Tennessee is the only state to have such a law on the books. (A bill was introduced in Oklahoma this month). A week after the Tennessee law went into effect, a woman was arrested for smoking meth. She is now in county jail and could be incarcerated for up to year. Criminalizing drug use during pregnancy has done nothing to help her overcome her addiction or protect the health of her baby. Instead, the state has just added one more person to criminal justice system.

If the ultimate goal is promote healthy pregnancies and healthy babies, this bill is not the answer.

Commentary

Renee EllmersAs Suzanne Buckley of NARAL Pro Choice NC wrote on the main Policy Watch page yesterday, today is the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision — a great time for people committed to freedom and women’s health to recommit themselves to the cause.

And, happily, such efforts can begin with at least a modest celebration this morning: Congresswoman Renee Ellmers of North Carolina and some other GOP women appear to have raised the ire of anti-choice extremists this week by having the temerity to challenge one among many dangerous provisions in an anti-abortion bill that was being advanced in the U.S. House.

This is from the this morning’s edition of Raleigh’s News & Observer:

“House Republican leaders, faced with an uprising within their ranks over a controversial abortion bill, pulled it Wednesday evening before it was scheduled for a vote Thursday to coincide with the 42nd anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the 1974 Supreme Court decision that legalized the procedure.

Rep. Renee Ellmers, R-N.C., and Rep. Jackie Walorski, R-Ind., had led a group of Republican lawmakers who disagreed with part of a bill that would ban most abortions at 20 weeks or later.

Ellmers and Walorski on Tuesday officially withdrew their support for the bill, and House Republican leaders scrambled to address the concerns of the two lawmakers and a group of other Republicans. Late Wednesday night, the GOP House leadership replaced the bill with one that would end federal funding for abortions.”

The ironically-named North Carolina Values Coalition decried Ellmers’ action as a “betrayal.”

Good for Ellmers. While it would be of a lot better if she would just speak up publicly and renounce the mean-spirited folly of the entire GOP anti-reproductive freedom drive, her recent actions are better than nothing. Let’s hope it’s the start of a more ambitious connection to common sense on the whole issue of reproductive freedom on her part.

Click here to read Suzanne Buckley’s excellent essay.

Commentary

Reproductive rightsThe state Department of Health and Human Services will be holding a hearing this Friday morning on new proposed abortion provider regulations. As explained in this recent post by the good people at NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina, there is actually cause for optimism that the rules will not unduly burden women’s health. That said, anti-choice advocates are banging the drum to alter the proposed regs in a negative way and, as a result, advocates for women’s health will gather Friday on site in support of keeping the new regulations safe and sane.

This is from an alert sent out by the good people at Progress NC:

December 19: Put Women’s Health First!

The NC Department of Health and Human Services has proposed new regulations on abortion providers. The Department has included the input of women’s healthcare providers throughout the rulemaking process, and we need to stay vigilant and make sure that any new regulations put women’s health FIRST.

That’s why Planned Parenthood in NC, NARAL Pro-Choice NC, ACLU-NC, NC Women United, NC NOW, NC Women Matter and Progress NC need you to join us on Friday, December 19 at Dorothea Dix Campus, Brown Building, Room 104, 801 Biggs Drive, Raleigh, NC.

Click here for more information.

 

News

Reproductive rightsThe North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services released proposed abortion provider regulations today and the preliminary take seems to be that the intent of the rules themselves may not be as malicious or destructive as that of the legislation that gave rise to them.

As Alison Kiser of Planned Parenthood told WRAL.com:

“We are pleased that DHHS included a Planned Parenthood provider as part of the regulatory process. As we have been for 40 years, Planned Parenthood affiliates in North Carolina are committed to our patients and meeting the health care needs of the more than 25,000 women, men and young people that come to us every year for high-quality, affordable health care. Ensuring the health and safety of our patients is central to our mission.”

Meanwhile the folks at NARAL Pro-Choice NC issued the following statement:

DHHS Releases Rules for Abortion Clinics in North Carolina
Advocates caution that process must put women’s health before lawmakers’ political agenda

DURHAM, NC—Today the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) released a set of rules regulating abortion providers in North Carolina, in accordance with SB 353, which the legislature passed in an extended legislative session this year.

“The Department of Health and Human Services has written a set of regulations with input from experts in the field of reproductive health care. At NARAL Pro-Choice NC, we believe it’s critical that this rule-making process not be politicized by the same political interests and lawmakers that sought to eliminate access to abortion care in the first place,” said Suzanne Buckley, Executive Director of NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina.

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Uncategorized

McCrory budgetIn case you missed it over the weekend, Gov. Pat McCrory told an interviewer that he plans to sign the coal ash clean-up bill even though he believes that part of it is unconstitutional. This is from a story on WRAL.com:

McCrory said the bill’s creation of an independent coal ash oversight commission, appointed by House and Senate leaders and the governor, blurs the separation of powers of different branches of the government – just one example, he added, among several such proposals lawmakers advanced this year.

“I’m going to have to fight them from a constitutional standpoint, including even the coal ash commission,” he told Campbell. “I think this concept of creating commissions that are appointed by the legislature – or a majority by the legislature – is unconstitutional, regardless of the subject. Because that means the legislature is doing the operations of state government, which is not their responsibility. I think there’s a constitutional issue there.

How such a position squares with the Governor’s sworn duty to support the Constitution is hard to figure. Of course, when you’re listening to the rather unique policy observations of North Carolina’s current chief executive, you always have to take things with a grain of salt. In the same interview, the Guv expressed his approval for the General Assembly’s rejection of another bill during the waning hours of session last week because it contained multiple, unrelated topics. Again, this is from the WRAL story:

“There were parts of the bill that had no relevance to the other part of the bill, and that’s not the way you should do legislation,” he said.

Uh, Governor, we hate to tell you this, but you’ve already signed dozens of bill that do exactly the same thing — most notably, the infamous SB 353 from just last year. You remember that one. It dealt with those two closely-related topics: abortion clinic regulations and motorcycle safety.