Indiana prosecutor considers locking up mothers of newborns
Madison County prosecutor Rodney Cummings is considering criminally charging women who give birth to babies who show signs of drug addiction at birth by demonstrating withdrawal symptoms like tremors, excessive crying, vomiting, and diarrhea.
But recent history in other states suggests locking up mothers won’t work, and might even make the situation worse. Cummings is also defying medical science, which concludes that addiction is a chronic brain disease.
The number of babies born addicted to drugs is increasing, with one Indiana hospital saying the number of drug addicted babies had doubled and another also seeing an increase, and Cummings said charging the mothers who use drugs should be considered. But he needs to determine if it’s something he can legally do.
“The problem won’t go away,” Cummings said in an interview with the Herald Bulletin. “The threat of incarceration may be the most effective way to lower the numbers.”
Madison County Sheriff Scott Mellinger disagreed with Cummings and expressed doubt that locking up mothers would help solve the problem, saying an education program should occur first.
Cummings might want to look to Tennessee, which passed a fetal-assault statute in 2014.
That law was written for two years and allowed to expire in 2016 amid criticism that pregnant women were refusing to get prenatal care due to fear of being arrested. It also received criticism from women’s rights activists, medical professionals, and abortion opponents.
“The law has had the opposite of its intended affect,” said Allison Glass, state director at Healthy and Free TN, a reproductive and sexual health advocacy group, in an interview with Mother Jones. “It’s driving women away from health care.”
And getting into rehab didn’t seem to help. A woman Mother Jones profiled, Brittany Hudson, avoided going to the doctor for most of her pregnancy but sought drug treatment toward the end hoping it would allow her to be a better mother.
But each time she went to an in-patient drug center she was turned away because it had a policy of not accepting pregnant women, or there was no space for her.
After her baby was born, Hudson was arrested for assault, but in jail she found little in the way of help, only being able to attend Narcotics Anonymous meetings.
“You put these women behind bars but there’s nothing for them there,” Hudson said.