Pregnant People and the Drug War

Pregnant people are uniquely vulnerable to criminal justice or child welfare involvement especially if they have admitted to drug use or have had a positive drug test at birth. Prosecutors across the country have targeted pregnant people accused of drug use, supposedly in the interest of protecting their fetuses.

The criminalization of pregnant people puts both parent and fetus at greater risk by creating barriers to child custody, drug treatment, and prenatal care.


Nineteen states and the District of Columbia define prenatal exposure to drugs as sufficient evidence to make a finding of child maltreatment. Seven states consider prenatal exposure grounds to terminate parental rights when there was a prior child with prenatal exposure or when the pregnant person/parent does not participate in drug treatment.

Learn more about how the drug war breaks up families at UprootingTheDrugWar.org.


Prisons and jails commonly use restraints (handcuffs and shackles) on people in labor and during delivery, putting the mental and physical well-being of the parent and fetus at risk. Many prisons and jails also deny new parents the right to breastfeed or express milk for their babies, stripping them of the choice in how to feed their own children, as well as the medical benefits of breastfeeding for both parent and child.

Medical professionals recommend that people who have been receiving Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) during pregnancy for problematic substance use should continue that treatment after birth in order to prevent relapse. But some prisons and jails deny them this continued treatment, forcing them to go through rapid, painful withdrawal while they are recovering from childbirth and greatly increasing the chances of relapse after their release.

Our Priorities

The Drug Policy Alliance is working to reduce the devastating effects of the drug war on pregnant people. We advocate for:

  • Safeguarding a person's right to sovereignty over their own body, including while they are pregnant
  • Access to Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) in jails and prisons, including during pregnancy