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March 1, 2006 - Spokesman-Review (WA)

Bill Targets Pregnant Women's Drug Use

Idaho Measure Would Create Felony

By Meghann M. Cuniff, Staff writer

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

BOISE -- Pregnant women who use controlled substances such as methamphetamine or marijuana could be charged with a felony and imprisoned under a bill the Idaho state Senate approved 18-16 Tuesday.

SB 1337 creates a new criminal violation: endangering children through the use of controlled substances. The felony charge carries a $50,000 fine and up to five years in prison. It instructs courts to consider drug treatment options rather than prison time but does not mandate treatment.

The bill applies only to drugs classified as schedule I and schedule II substances. Those include ecstasy, heroin, LSD, cocaine, morphine, marijuana and meth.

"It is a misconception that pregnant mothers will be incarcerated," said Sen. Mike Jorgenson, R-Hayden Lake. "The intent is not to put a bunch of young women in jail."

Jorgenson was the only North Idaho senator who supported the bill, and he said he did so because it gives pregnant addicts the chance for rehabilitation.

But Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, said the treatment options the bill promotes are not easy to get because demand is already high. Adding more demand for rehabilitation without increasing the number of centers or giving them more funding is wrong, she said.

"Voting for the bill would -- in my end of the state, I believe -- put that woman in a jail cell without any hope of help to get through either treatment and/or pregnancy," Keough said. "We have continued to underfund treatment, and we continue to kill bills that would help treatment, help family planning, help counseling. So in good conscience I couldn't support the bill."

No state now has a law that makes illegal drug consumption by a pregnant woman its own crime. But Indiana and Tennessee are considering legislation similar to the Idaho bill, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Sixteen states classify illegal drug consumption by a pregnant woman as a form of child abuse.

Opponents of the bill, including Republican Sen. Dick Compton of Coeur d'Alene, are concerned it could cause a decrease in the number of women seeking prenatal care because of a fear of prosecution for drug abuse.

"It is my great fear that now these mothers will not step forward because they fear there's a felony charge waiting for them," Compton said.

Some opponents say the fact that the bill would punish addicted mothers is reason enough to vote against it.

"Being addicted to meth is not a crime; it's a disease," said Sen. Kate Kelly, D-Boise. "It's a disease that requires medical treatment, not incarceration."

Sen. Curt McKenzie, R-Nampa, supported the bill.

"It at least provides some protection for that baby," McKenzie said. "At least (the mother) can't get the drugs during that time and there's a better chance for that baby."

But Sen. Elliot Werk, D-Boise, said it's based on faulty scientific information.

"I have yet to see scientific evidence that can link marijuana use with ongoing impact to a child," Werk said. "We're walking down a road in statute that's not supported with scientific evidence."

The bill now goes to a House committee.

How They Voted

SB 1337 makes certain illegal drug use by pregnant women a felony.

Voting No: Republicans Dick Compton, Coeur d'Alene; Joyce Broadsword, Sagle; John Goedde, Coeur d'Alene; Shawn Keough, Sandpoint;Gary Schroeder, Moscow; Joe Stegner, Lewiston

Voting Yes: Republican Mike Jorgenson, Hayden Lake

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