Supreme Court of New Mexico Strikes Down State’s Attempt to Convict Woman Struggling with Addiction During Pregnancy.
Leading Physicians, Scientific Researchers, and Medical, Public Health, and Child Welfare Organizations Applaud Court’s Order
PRESS RELEASE May 11, 2007
Drug Policy Alliance National Advocates for Pregnant Women
For Immediate Release:
Reena Szczepanski (DPA): 505-983-3277
Nancy Goldstein (NAPW): 347-563-1647
On May 11, the Supreme Court of the State of New Mexico turned back the state's attempt to expand the criminal child abuse laws to apply to pregnant women and fetuses. In 2003, Ms. Cynthia Martinez was charged with felony child abuse “for permitting a child under 18 years of age to be placed in a situation that may endanger the child's life or health. . .” In bringing this prosecution, the state argued that a pregnant woman who cannot overcome a drug addiction before she gives birth should be sent to jail as a felony child abuser.
Today the Supreme Court summarily affirmed the Court of Appeals decision, which overturned Ms. Martinez’s conviction. New Mexico joins more than 20 other states that have ruled on this issue and that have refused to judicially expand state criminal child abuse and related laws to reach the issues of pregnancy and addiction.
The Drug Policy Alliance (“DPA”) and the National Advocates for Pregnant Women (“NAPW”) filed a friend-of-the-court brief http://www.drugpolicy.org/docUploads/NMvMartinezAmicusBrief.pdf on behalf of the New Mexico Public Health Association, the New Mexico Nurses Association, and nearly three dozen other leading medical and public health organizations, physicians, and scientific researchers. During oral argument, the Justices referenced the amicus brief filed by these organizations and expressed grave concerns about the deterrent effect such prosecutions would have on women seeking prenatal care.
Tiloma Jayasinghe, NAPW staff attorney, explained, “Making child abuse laws applicable to pregnant women and fetuses would, by definition, make every woman who is low-income, uninsured, has health problems, and/or is battered who becomes pregnant a felony child abuser. In oral argument, the state’s attorney conceded that the law could potentially be applied to pregnant women who smoked.”
Reena Szczepanski, Director of Drug Policy Alliance New Mexico, said, “I hope that this case serves as a reminder that pregnant women who are struggling with drug use should be offered prenatal care and drug treatment, not prosecution. There are better ways to protect our children in New Mexico, and ensure that future generations will be safe and healthy.”
A complete list of the Amici appears below:
New Mexico Section of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
New Mexico Public Health Association
New Mexico Nurses Association
American College of Physicians, New Mexico
National Association of Social Workers
National Association of Social Workers, New Mexico
National Coalition for Child Protection Reform
Child Welfare Organizing Project
American Academy of Addiction Psychiatry
The Association for Medical Education and Research in Substance Abuse
American Public Health Association
Citizens for Midwifery
Doctors of the World-USA
The Hygeia Foundation, Inc.
National Perinatal Association
National Asian Pacific American Women's Forum
National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence
National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health
National Women's Health Network
Our Bodies Ourselves
Pegasus Legal Services for Children
Physicians and Lawyers for National Drug Policy
Center for Gender and Justice
Yolanda Briscoe, M.D.
Norton Kalishman, M.D.
Eve Espey, M.D.
Dona Upson, M.D., M.A.
Elizabeth M. Armstrong, Ph.D.
Wendy Chavkin, M.D., M.P.H.
Ellen Wright Clayton, M.D., J.D.
Nancy Day, M.P.H.
Leslie Hartley Gise, M.D.
Stephanie S. Covington, Ph.D., L.C.S.W.
Ms. Martinez was represented by Jane Wishner of the Southwest Women's Law Center and Joseph Goldberg of the law firm of Freedman Boyd Daniels Hollander Goldberg & Ives, P.A.