Alabama Prosecutes Mother for Using Prescribed Medication

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A 36-year-old Alabama woman is facing felony charges for filling a doctor’s prescription, shedding light on Alabama’s long history of prosecuting pregnant women under a strict reading of a statute against “chemical endangerment of a child”, which classifies substance use during pregnancy as a form of child abuse, reports Moira Donegan in an op-ed for The Guardian. Kim Blalock, a mother of six, suffers from severe back pain caused by degeneration of her spinal discs and is charged with prescription fraud; prosecutors allege that she committed a crime when she failed to inform her prescribing doctor that she was pregnant before refilling her hydrocodone.

Since 2006, when meth labs were appearing across rural communities, Alabama has made it a felony to expose a child to a chemically toxic environment by enforcing heavier penalties on people who make drugs around children, exposing them to the vapors that are emitted in the creation of crack and meth. Prosecutors quickly began deploying the law against pregnant women, interpreting a “chemically toxic environment” to mean the pregnant body itself. Meanwhile, twenty-three states and the District of Columbia have such laws, known as “chemical endangerment of a child” statutes, on the books. At least 18 states legally require that doctors who know about substance use during pregnancy – like Blalock’s obstetrician – turn their patients in. A woman carrying a healthy pregnancy could be turned into the police just for being honest with her own doctor. A shocking number of cases have been brought, both in Alabama and around the country, against women who merely took their medication as prescribed while they happened to be pregnant. Blalock’s prosecution suggests that Alabama authorities are looking for creative ways to limit the rights of pregnant women, regardless of the clearly expressed intent of their own legislature.

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