Mother Verses Child

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Should your newborn be able to testify against you? Well, in some states, they can and do – sort of. A recent example from Alabama illustrates how it works.

Last month, Sharon Gomez (27) was arrested when her newborn tested positive for the effects of methamphetamine. The infant was born prematurely and the mother went to jail with a half-million dollar bond.

The offense is called “chemical endangerment of a child” and while Alabama has the most prosecutions of this type, laws exist across the nation. For example, the guidelines in Indiana are typical for what to do when a child is discovered in a home where methamphetamine is being produced. Among the directions is removal of the child and testing for any absorbed substances – in effect, the child’s body is compelled to testify against the parent. This is directed at meth labs, but the same rules can be used when the exposure happens in another way – even across a placenta, in utero.

No one is disputing that children and infants are at risk when parents take (or make) dangerous substances. A pregnant woman’s addiction does adversely impact her baby. Children in drug-using homes are at risk. What is disputed is how beneficial it is to lock up the mother instead of offering treatment.

Women’s groups are particularly critical of these laws, or, more specifically, the increased enforcement. The spokesperson for one group, the Alabama Women’s Resource Network, put it this way: “Through the misapplication of the chemical endangerment law, more women are being sent to prison versus receiving treatment for their substance abuse. What’s happening now is women that are pregnant are being tested, and instead of being offered some type of treatment it just becomes a type of criminal case.”

The question isn’t an easy one. A crime has been committed. The difficult choice is whether to keep the child with the mother and risk further harm or remove the child into an admittedly flawed system. In some cases, relatives can step in, but not always.

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