This past weekend, the New York Times Magazine ran an article, “Mommy Had To Go Away For A While", and its website published it under the title, “The Criminalization of Bad Mothers”. In the article, Ada Calhoun tells the story of several women who have been arrested under Alabama’s chemical-endangerment law, a law which requires the prosecution of mothers abusing substances that might harm their children or fetuses. She traces the cases and family backgrounds of several women impacted by this law. She also provides background on both the groups supporting this law and fighting it. Beyond covering an issue of importance to the Foundation’s grantee, National Advocates for Pregnant Women, and extensively relying on information from its Executive Director Lynn Paltrow and Director of Policy and Advocacy Emma Ketteringham, this article is remarkable for its exploration of the complexities around this law and the criminalization of several women who have used drugs during their pregnancies.
It soon becomes clear that these are tough cases to get involved with because the women are not always that sympathetic; they can be bad mothers and they may be engaging in illegal activity. On the other hand, the article exposes that these cases are often more complicated. These women do seem to care about their children and they have often struggled with addiction so abandoning drugs during pregnancy proves quite difficult.
Regardless of your feelings towards these women, one thing remains clear. Advocates, like NAPW, continue to take on these critical cases because they are extremely important for defending women’s rights and fighting fetal personhood laws that have appeared around the country. In fact,
[Ms. Ketteringham] argues that applying Alabama’s chemical-endangerment law to pregnant women “violates constitutional guarantees of liberty, privacy, equality, due process and freedom from cruel and unusual punishment.” In effect, she says, under Alabama’s chemical-endangerment law, pregnant women have become “a special class of people that should be treated differently from every other citizen.”
They also argue that criminalizing these behaviors is neither appropriate for the families nor the health of women. Alternative measures need to be created that respond in a way to encourage healthy behaviors rather than take away the rights of women in favor of fetuses. We truly recommend you read this article. It offers a nuanced examination of an extremely complicated set of issues that bring about these laws and why it is important to support NAPW’s challenge, despite personal feelings towards the mothers. Again, to read the article, please click here.