Pregnant women with health problems need care, not incarceration. As an OB-GYN for over 25 years, I strongly disagree with the Big Horn County attorney’s vow to prosecute and jail pregnant women who suffer from substance abuse issues. Addiction is a biological and behavioral disorder that needs medical treatment. Evidence-based, compassionate care improves outcomes for both mothers and their children. This “crackdown policy” is not only based on medical misinformation and stigma, but it will deter pregnant women from seeking prenatal care. Studies have shown that getting prenatal care significantly reduces the negative effects of substance abuse during pregnancy, including decreased risks of low birth weight and premature birth.
As a practicing OB-GYN in Billings, I’ve cared for many pregnant women suffering from substance abuse. Most women who are pregnant truly want a healthy pregnancy and want to be good mothers. The only way that we as physicians can help expectant mothers achieve that goal, is if she can feel that she can be open and honest with her care team. Incarceration and the threat of incarceration have proven to be ineffective in reducing the incidence of alcohol or drug abuse and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists states, “The use of the legal system to address perinatal alcohol and substance abuse is inappropriate.”
All women should be able to seek medical help without fear of incarceration. What the Big Horn County Attorney’s Office should focus on is safe, affordable and effective comprehensive alcohol and drug prevention and treatment services for all women, especially pregnant women, and their families.
C.H. “Tersh” McCracken III, MD, FACOG
chair, ACOG District VIII