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Prosecutor plans crackdown on drug-addicted pregnant women

January 13, 2018

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — A Montana prosecutor wants to prevent babies from being born addicted to drugs and alcohol by using the threat of jail time as a deterrent for pregnant women.

Big Horn County Attorney Jay Harris said he plans to seek civil orders restraining pregnant women from using illegal drugs or excessive alcohol. He said he will seek to have violators held in contempt of court and jailed, if necessary, so the woman does not have access to alcohol or drugs.

Harris said the policy change was spurred by an increasing number of child abuse and neglect cases.

“I regret that I have not pronounced this policy years ago,” Harris said.

Critics say the possibility of jail time or losing custody of the baby often prevents women from seeking the help they need.

“He’s basically trying to criminalize pregnancy when what these women need is better access to health care and not jail time,” said Caitlin Borgmann, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Montana.

The Rimrock Foundation in Billings, the region’s largest addiction treatment center, opened an eight-bed treatment center for pregnant women this week. But director Malcolm Horn said that’s still not enough beds to meet the treatment needs.

Both the American Medical Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics oppose punitive measures against pregnant addicts, based on evidence that they actually discourage women from seeking help, Borgmann told The Billings Gazette.

A similar effort in Ravalli County, where a woman was charged with criminal child endangerment for allegedly putting her unborn child at risk by using illegal drugs, was thrown out by the judge. Harris said his effort will pursue civil, not criminal, prosecution.

Harris defended the policy change as a last resort and a way the justice system can intervene on behalf of an unborn child to prevent them from facing a potential lifetime of disability.

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This story has been updated to correct Caitlin Borgmann’s title.

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Information from: The Billings Gazette, http://www.billingsgazette.com

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Information from: The Billings Gazette, http://www.billingsgazette.com

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