Health Groups Ask Supreme Court to Hear Unprecedented `Treatment vs. Jail’ Case

Press Release April 5, 1998
Media Contact

Tony Newman at 510-208-7711

Physicians, health advocacy groups and drug treatment providers filed a “friend of the court” brief with the U.S. Supreme Court today opposing Whitner v State, a South Carolina Supreme Court decision which allows a woman to be criminally prosecuted for conduct during her pregnancy. In an unprecedented case which emphasizes the need for more available drug treatment and adequate prenatal care, health professionals and drug treatment supporters are rallying against the policy of South Carolina Attorney General Charles Condon to arrest and jail pregnant women rather than offer treatment to those who suffer from chemical dependence. Specifically, the groups have joined two women, Cornelia Whitner and Mallissa Ann Crawley, in their request that the Supreme Court hear their case.

“This case is about ensuring newborns a healthy future,” said Margaret W. Crawford, Board Chair of The Alliance for South Carolina’s Children. “South Carolina’s Attorney General Charles Condon thinks jail will deter substance abuse. However, treatment centers are already reporting that far fewer women are seeking treatment and prenatal care due to this policy — causing further harm to women, children and families.”

“South Carolina Attorney General Condon’s War on Drugs has turned into a War on pregnant women who need treatment,” said Daniel Abrahamson, Director of Legal Affairs for The Lindesmith Center and one of the attorneys representing the broad array of health organizations in this case before the High Court. “Sadly, Mr. Condon has ignored the countless pleas of physicians and alcohol and drug treatment providers to treat, not prosecute, pregnant women suffering from chemical dependence. Now, the women and children most in need of help are suffering horribly as a result of Mr. Condon’s misguided and draconian policies.”

The Lindesmith Center’s brief, or “petition for certiorari,” has been joined by medical groups and public health organizations including the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American Nurses Association and the American Medical Women’s Association. These groups see the case as one that underscores the need to make substance abuse treatment more available to pregnant women.

In addition to medical and health groups, leading researchers on cocaine and pregnancy have joined the friend-of-the-court brief, including Dr. Ira Chasnoff, President of the National Association for Families and Addiction Research and Education. Dr. Chasnoff has found that cocaine’s harms have been exaggerated, but like all potentially harmful substances, including cigarettes and alcohol, it should be dealt with through treatment, not incarceration.

South Carolina physicians and other health care professionals are particularly outraged by the state court’s decision because they are now obligated by law to turn their pregnant patients over to state authorities for possible prosecution if those patients test positive for drugs. Because the decision declares that viable fetuses are children, physicians are now required to turn in pregnant women who take any action which may endanger the health of the fetus. This requirement violates the principle of doctor-patient confidentiality which is essential to quality medical practice. Moreover, physicians who refuse to report their patients to authorities themselves face arrest and prosecution under South Carolina law.

For further comment:

Daniel Abrahamson
Director of Legal Affairs
The Lindesmith Center
415-554-1900 – office
415-995-2194 – v mail

Groups Submitting This Brief To The U.S. Supreme Court Include:

National Association of Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Counselors
South Carolina Association of Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Counselors
American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
National Association of Social Workers
American Nurses Association
South Carolina Nurses Association
American Medical Women’s Association
National Association for Families and Addiction Research and Education
Association for Medical Education and Research In Substance Abuse
American Academy on Physician and Patient
Society of General Internal Medicine
National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence
National Center for Youth Law
Legal Services for Prisoners with Children
Coalition on Addiction
Pregnancy and Parenting
Now Legal Defense and Education Fund
Legal Action Center
Women’s Law Project
Drug Policy Foundation
Alliance for South Carolina’s Children

A young woman holds a sign that says "End the Drug War."

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