Is Alabama Drug Testing New Moms?
New mothers in Alabama are facing jail time and losing custody of their newborn children after being drug tested without their knowledge or consent. Is this testing method legal and do these women have any rights?
New mothers in Alabama have more than labor pains and giving birth to worry about as many are being tested for drugs without their knowledge and without their consent, according to a recent study conducted by AL.com and ProPublica. The hospitals are slipping in these tests thanks to Alabama’s chemical endangerment law that was instituted in 2006 as a way to protect infants from further harm.
The catch here lies within the obscure hospital policies and their lack of transparency when it comes to informing their patients about the probability of being drug tested. The consequences of testing positive for drugs are rather extreme as drug use during pregnancy is considered child abuse and may result in loss of custody and/or jail time.
The law states that penalties can be one to 10 years in prison if the drug tests came back positive and the infant was unaffected by the substances used. A sentence of 10 to 20 years may be applied to women who give birth to infants who display signs of being exposed to drugs or suffer ill effects; and a 10 to 99 year sentence may be handed down to those whose drug use results in the dealt of the infant.
Of course there are women who truly do use illegal drugs and prescription medications in a manner that can cause harm to their child. In fact, the amount of infants born dependent upon opiates roughly doubled from 2009 and 2012, which cost hospitals $1.5 million in treatment.
However, there are also women who find themselves accused of drug use despite the drugs in their systems being prescribed medications that are used appropriately. These women are then left to prove their innocence and hopefully stave off a jail sentence, not to mention trying to maintain or regain custody of their newborns. When Health Street performs tests at our drug testing locations in Alabama, the person always has the right to speak to a medical review officer about the prescriptions that they are taking legally. Legal prescriptions should never cause a false positive.
As a result of the drug testing system many women in Alabama are opting out of receiving prenatal care due to the fear they feel about possibly being arrested or having their children taken away. Noting this is Dr. Stephen Patrick, a professor of pediatrics and health policy at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. He said, “Criminal law tends to make women less forthcoming. It doesn’t set up a place where people have the opportunity to engage with their providers honestly.”
Can Hospitals Do This?
Many in the medical field feel that the drug tests “should be performed only with the patient’s consent…Pregnant women must be informed of the potential ramifications of a positive test result, including any mandatory reporting requirements.” Unfortunately, this doesn’t seem to be on the radar of most Alabama hospitals as only two out of the 49 hospitals surveyed by AL.com and ProPublica, made specific mention of a drug test in the patient paperwork signed upon being admitted.
“If hospitals are not informing their patients about what their drug testing policies are, particularly when those results are used to involve law enforcement in their patients’ lives, that is an unconstitutional act,” says Sara Ainsworth, director of legal advocacy for the National Advocates for Pregnant Women.
There is also much debate about whether or not the drug testing is a violation of the fourth amendment of unreasonable searches and seizures as well as if it’s considered a breach of the patients constitutional rights. A previous ruling for this very issue in 2001 resulted in a judge finding the law to be unconstitutional and required the hospital in question to cease their drug testing methods. Whether the same result will be garnered for the chemical endangerment law remains to be seen at this point.
Drug Testing Options
We know that laws like this one in Alabama can be scary for new and expectant mothers, but there are drug testing options for those who are using drugs whether they are prescribed or otherwise. You can easily schedule a test at one of our Drug Testing locations in Alabama prior to giving birth if you’d like the added peace of mind before going to the hospital. Health Street offers many different types of drug tests in Alabama, including these popular options: