Over 18 months, at least eight women have been prosecuted for using drugs while pregnant in the Andalusia, Al., area, a tally without any apparent recent parallel, the New York Times reports. District Attorney Greg Gambril acknowledges the number puts him at the forefront among Alabama prosecutors. Similar cases have come up elsewhere, usually with limited success. Alabama’s this hilly, remote terrain just above the Florida Panhandle is pursuing these cases with special vigor.
Maryland's highest court in 2006 threw out the convictions of two women whose babies were born with cocaine in their bloodstreams, ruling that punishment was not the right deterrent. Last year, the New Mexico Supreme Court rejected a woman's child-abuse conviction in a similar case, declaring a fetus was not a child. Some doctors and advocacy groups maintain that the effects of drugs on pregnant women and their fetuses are not fully known; in Alabama these arguments have yet to be officially made because women are not appealing their convictions. “In my jurisdiction, a baby being born dead because of drug abuse is a huge deal,” Gambril said. He makes little distinction between fetus and child. He said his duty is to protect both, though the Alabama law he uses makes no reference to unborn children, and was primarily intended to protect youngsters from exposure to meth labs.