Would punishing women for using drugs while pregnant exacerbate the problem? Some think so. – Casper Star-Tribune

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A doctor performs an ultrasound scan on a pregnant woman at a hospital in Chicago in 2018. Lawmakers are debating whether to enact criminal penalties for using methamphetamine or narcotics while pregnant. 
Advocates say a bill targeting drug use in pregnancy could help protect children and connect women with the treatment they need. But opponents say that if House Bill 85 becomes law, it could deter those same women from seeking health care or carrying their baby to term.
The bill made it out of the House Judiciary Committee on Thursday, and passed its first vote Friday on the House floor.

One bill would ban abortion pills in the state, one would ban “selective” abortions based on the fetus’ disability or other characteristics and the other would enact a total ban in the event Roe v. Wade is overturned.
Michelle Foust, whose criminal case has been used as an example regarding holes in Wyoming’s child endangerment statute that the bill seeks to rectify, testified to the committee on Thursday, saying that the bill would create more barriers for women to get treatment.
Foust told the Star-Tribune prior to her testimony that she was unaware that the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Ember Oakley, R-Riverton, was using her 2005 case to argue for the proposed legislation.
Oakley’s bill would add a new subsection to Wyoming’s child endangerment statute to make the consumption of methamphetamine or narcotics during pregnancy punishable by up to five years in prison, a fine of up to $5,000 or both.
Marijuana is not a narcotic and is not included in the bill. An amendment by Rep. Mike Yin, D-Jackson, to limit the law only to methamphetamine use failed.
A similar bill brought by Sen. Lynn Hutchings, R-Cheyenne, was voted down in the Senate’s labor and health committee last week. Hutchings’ proposal would have created a child abuse charge for those who use controlled substances while pregnant if the child is born with a “bodily injury, disability or disfigurement.”

Critics of the bill worried it would deter women from seeking prenatal care and addiction treatment.
Oakley has been using Foust’s case as an example of situations she hopes to prevent with her proposed legislation.
Foust was charged with child endangering in 2005, after her son was found with methamphetamine metabolites in his system at birth. The Wyoming child endangerment law states that “no person shall knowingly and willfully cause or permit a child” to ingest methamphetamine or remain in or enter an enclosure with the presence of methamphetamine.
In Foust’s case, however, a Fremont County judge ruled that a fetus is not considered a child under the child endangerment statute.
“This statutory language contains the word ‘child,’ but not the words ‘fetus’ or ‘unborn child,’” the judge’s decision reads. “To allow the broad definition of child, which the State seeks, would go against the intent of the legislature.”
Another judge reaffirmed this interpretation of the statute in a separate case.
Oakley said that her bill is meant to “fill a hole in the law” in relation to the statute, adding that the use of drugs while pregnant “fits squarely in with behavior that is already prohibited and illegal.”
“This is arguably the most dangerous behavior of all of those,” she said.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, research shows that the use of drugs while pregnant can have severe negative health impacts on a fetus, sometimes resulting in infants going through withdrawal, or neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS), upon birth. Substances that can have such impacts on infants range from tobacco, alcohol and marijuana to opioids and methamphetamines.
But some legislators and many of those testifying expressed concerns that the bill would unintentionally worsen the problem it seeks to address by deterring mothers from seeking addiction treatment and prenatal care.
“I did not seek prenatal care, mostly out of fear of prosecution,” Foust said, noting that she continued to use methamphetamine throughout her pregnancy. “I did not speak to a doctor, or anyone in a position of authority, out of fear.”
The literature echoes Foust’s experience.
A 2015 study by the National Center for Biotechnology Information found that mothers who used drugs during their pregnancy employed strategies to avoid detection “including isolating themselves from others, skipping treatment appointments, or avoiding treatment altogether.”
On a policy level, a 2019 study by the Journal of the American Medical Association that analyzed over 4 million births across eight states found greater rates of newborns with NAS in states with punitive policies toward substance use during pregnancy compared to states without such policies.
Although they both said their departments don’t hold an official stance on the bill, Wyoming Department of Health Interim Director Stefan Johansson and Wyoming Department of Family Services Director Korin Schmidt also referred to other research to underline their concerns about potentially deterring women from seeking care.
Foust also said she felt the proposed legislation would unfairly target women, given that fathers could also abuse substances but wouldn’t be punished for doing so under the circumstances that the bill outlines.
There doesn’t appear to be much research showing instances where similar legislation has been successful. Oakley didn’t responded to the Star-Tribune by press time regarding examples she may have come across in her research.
But despite the punitive measures outlined in the bill, Oakley has said her primary intent is not meant to criminalize mothers for using drugs while pregnant.
“It is not an attempt to incarcerate these mothers, but it is an insistence that they get it right,” she said.
Gov. Mark Gordon shakes hands with Rep. Mike Yin before delivering the State of the State address to open the 2022 budget session on Monday at the Wyoming Capitol. 
Gov. Mark Gordon delivers the State of the State address inside the House of Representatives on Monday at the Wyoming Capitol. 
Gov. Mark Gordon delivers the State of the State address inside the House of Representatives on Monday at the Wyoming Capitol. 
Lawmakers applaud Gov. Mark Gordon during his State of the State address on Monday at the Wyoming Capitol. 
Signs show assigned seating before the State of the State address at the Wyoming Capitol in Cheyenne. 
Lawmakers applaud Gov. Mark Gordon during his State of the State address on Monday at the Wyoming Capitol. 
Lawmakers applaud Gov. Mark Gordon during his State of the State address on Monday at the Wyoming Capitol. 
Gov. Mark Gordon delivers the State of the State address inside the House of Representatives on Monday at the Wyoming Capitol. 
Lawmakers applaud Gov. Mark Gordon as he visits the House of Representatives for his State of the State address on Monday at the Wyoming Capitol. Gordon’s speech was optimistic, though he took time to criticize the Biden administration for its policies on energy. 
Spectators look on as lawmakers applaud Gov. Mark Gordon on Monday at the Wyoming Capitol in Cheyenne. 
Gov. Mark Gordon delivers the State of the State address inside the House of Representatives on Monday at the Wyoming Capitol. 
A service member is recognized during the State of the State address Monday at the Wyoming Capitol. 
Gov. Mark Gordon delivers the State of the State address inside the House of Representatives on Monday at the Wyoming Capitol. 
Gov. Mark Gordon stands in the House chamber to deliver his State of the State address on Monday at the Wyoming Capitol in Cheyenne. Gordon called raising pay for state workers his top priority. 
Gov. Mark Gordon recognizes the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho tribes on Monday during his State of the State address.
Spectators listed Monday to Gov. Mark Gordon’s State of the State address.
A hat rests on a cabinet at the Wyoming Legislature. 
Representatives stand inside the House chamber on Monday at the Wyoming Capitol in Cheyenne. 
A person in the spectator’s gallery is recognized during Monday’s State of the State address at the Wyoming Capitol in Cheyenne. 
Lawmakers listen during Monday’s State of the State address in Cheyenne. 
Chief Justice Kate Fox is seen on a monitor while speaking to the Legislature on Monday at the Wyoming Capitol in Cheyenne. 
Lawmakers and other at the Wyoming Legislature pray on Monday as they gather for the State of the State address at the Wyoming Capitol.

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A doctor performs an ultrasound scan on a pregnant woman at a hospital in Chicago in 2018. Lawmakers are debating whether to enact criminal penalties for using methamphetamine or narcotics while pregnant. 
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