An increasing number of babies are born to drug-addicted mothers. If one Missouri lawmaker has his way, drug use during pregnancy will become a felony.
Every 25 minutes in the United States a baby is born suffering from opioid withdrawal. Drugs taken by the mother such as heroin, methadone, codeine, and OxyContin pass through the placenta, causing the infant to become dependent on the drug as well. When a baby is born after drug exposure in the womb, he or she develops neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS). This incredibly uncomfortable condition results in obvious pain for the infant, who displays a short, anguished, high-pitched wail.
Missouri lawmakers are looking for a solution to this growing epidemic. As a result, Republican Representative Jered Taylor introduced Missouri House Bill 1875. If passed, the bill would make drug use during pregnancy a first-degree felony.
According to Taylor, the idea is to protect children from the lasting consequences of drug uses during pregnancy. The measure would make it a crime to “endanger the welfare of a child by knowingly ingesting, injecting, consuming or inhaling a narcotic drug or controlled substance without a prescription while the person is pregnant and such person knows or should reasonably know that she is pregnant.”
The bill has drawn immense criticism from across a wide array of groups. Criminalizing addiction, according to some, may decrease the likelihood that a woman will receive care during her pregnancy or seek appropriate treatment for her addiction out of fear of retribution.
Further, anti-abortion advocates have concerns that the bill would lead to an increased number of pregnancy terminations.
“Many pro-life groups and individuals… are concerned that this could drive women to have abortions because of concern about criminal sanctions,” said Samuel Lee, director of Campaign Life Missouri. “I share that concern.”
In response to numerous voiced concerns, Taylor has proposed changing who would be charged with the crime from the pregnant women to the drug dealer.
“It would actually go against the drug dealer,” he said. “So, it would create the crime of endangering the welfare of a child against the drug dealer, rather than penalizing the pregnant woman,” he said. “This may not be the silver bullet, this may not be what fixes the problem, but I want to start this conversation.”
The bill currently stands in the house, where on February 19th, it completed its first public hearing. Similar legislation that passed in Tennessee is set to expire, due to a sunset provision. The state of Tennessee found that pregnant women were avoiding prenatal care and infants were being born at increased risk.
According to the CDC, the number of babies born experiencing opioid withdrawal tripled during the 15-year period from 1999 to 2013.