Based on misinformation that frequently appears in the media, many people believe that pregnant people who use any amount of a criminalized drug or alcohol will inevitably harm or even kill their fetus. But media hype is not the same as science, and popular news reports have misrepresented the facts about prenatal exposure to drugs.
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In the wake of the Supreme Court’s ruling eviscerating the constitutional right to abortion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, it is more critical than ever that health care providers safeguard patients’ right to medical privacy.
This fact sheet provides background information about Wisconsin’s Act 292, colloquially known as the “Unborn Child Protection Act” or the “Cocaine Mom Law.” We call it Act 292 because the Act harms both children and fetuses—it does not protect them—and the previously-used term “cocaine mom” elicits a false, slanderous, and racist trope about people who consumed cocaine during pregnancy, which we reject.
In 2013, the Journal of Public Health Law and Policy published National Advocates for Pregnant Women (“NAPW”) peer-reviewed study documenting arrests, detentions, and equivalent deprivations of physical liberty of women between 1973 and 2005 in which being pregnant was a necessary element of the crime or a “but for” reason for the coercive or punitive action taken.
A summary of data on pregnancies and pregnancy outcomes in the United States including statistics on births, miscarriages, and abortions.
Carefully constructed, unbiased scientific research has not found that prenatal exposure to any criminalized drugs cause specific or unique harms. While there are numerous studies reporting findings that certain substances may increase a particular risk of harm, such as lower birth weight, research has not found that any criminalized substances are abortifacients, cause miscarriages or stillbirths, or cause specific harms or impairments to the children prenatally exposed.
Every leading medical and public health organization to address the issue of pregnant women and drug use has taken a position opposing punitive approaches as dangerous to maternal, fetal and child health. Please read the information below or download this fact sheet providing summaries of and citations to these statements.
Read NAPW’s fact sheet “Understanding CAPTA and State Obligations” for information on the federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) and what it does and does not require.
National Advocates for Pregnant Women
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The coronavirus pandemic, and our country’s lack of preparedness for it, give us an opportunity to make important observations and learn (or relearn) key lessons.
In the context of the nationwide litigation seeking to hold pharmaceutical companies liable for the over- prescription of opioids in the U.S., a team of private lawyers is seeking court approval to separately represent the interests of children born to women who used opioids during pregnancy.