Should Drug Abuse While Pregnant Be A Felony? Arkansas Considers New Law

The Arkansas State House Judiciary Committee approved a change to the criminal code so that a pregnant woman can be charged with felony battery for harming an unborn child by abusing illegal drugs.

Republican Representative Nate Bell says the law will protect unborn children from drug abuse, but the ACLU and Arkansas Right to Life claim it will backfire by preventing drug-addicted women from getting help.

According to KUAR Public Radio, in 2012, a woman named Melissa McCann-Arm was charged when she gave birth to a baby boy with methamphetamines in his system. In a landmark case, the prosecution successfully convicted the woman with “introduction of a controlled substance into the body of another person,” and she was sentenced to 20 years in prison.

The mother appealed. The appellate court upheld the ruling but said the laws should be clarified so courts in the future know how to treat these types of cases.

Republicans in the Arkansas State House of Representatives say the new bill is that clarification and will give prosecutors the tools they need to go after drug-using pregnant women.

The law in Arkansas already gives personhood to an unborn child at any stage of development in cases of murder and negligent homicide. Rep. Nate Bell explained the reforms simply extend the laws to include a new potential charge.

“We’re not changing the definition of who the person is to include a child in utero, that’s already been done. The only thing we’re doing is applying one more criminal statute that charges can be subsequently and successfully prosecuted in these cases.”

According to “Garett’s Law,” medical workers who encounter pregnant women with drug abuse issues are required to report them. If the new law is passed, authorities can prosecute women the medical community miss.

The ACLU and Arkansas Right to Life are adamantly opposed to the law along with a Democrat representative Camille Bennett, who voted in opposition.

Rep. Bennett asked, “[W]e’re basically criminalizing addiction. So, a mother who is addicted to drugs, which is a horrible thing, and a horrible thing that’s happened to her children. Is that the intent of this bill?”

According to the Baxter Bulletin, Arkansas Right to Life, an anti-abortion group, is also against the law, saying it will lead more pregnant women to get abortions rather than face criminal prosecution.

Executive Director Rose Mimms said, “[T]hat sends a strong message to pregnant women addicted to drugs that we don’t want to send.”

Nate Bell answered back, emphasizing that parental behavior should be prosecuted.

“It’s been done by [the person] who should be caring for that child, who should be the person who is most conscious of protecting and defending that child.”

As the law moves forward, the underlying debate will likely get more heated. What do you think? Should pregnant women be charged with battery for drug abuse?

[Image Credit: Getty Images]