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Drug and alcohol test for pregnant women required

Drug and alcohol test for pregnant women requiredA bill (Senate Bill 1065/ House Bill 890) being pushed in Tennessee is requiring that all pregnant women be tested for alcohol and illegal drug use as part of their prenatal care.

While at first glance, the proposed law seems benevolent enough, it is a very controversial bill, with the question as to whose rights have precedence – the mother’s or the unborn fetus’?

Certainly, the bill pleases pro-life and die-hard Christian groups with its pro-fetus overtones. This is however, a slap in the face of pro-choice and pro-abortion groups. Check out some of the points brought up by Rachel Walden of Women’s Health News.

The bill goes on to list certain indications of substance abuse during pregnancy that warrant investigation of the mother. The list includes:

While the first on the list is certainly a valid ground for closer monitoring, the other points listed cannot be exclusively attributed to substance abuse. It certainly seems unfair that that preemies and babies with congenital anomalies be immediately labelled as crack babies and their mommies be subjected to tests and investigations.

And what happens when the mother tests positive for drug or alcohol abuse? Well, the attending physician should push for rehabilitation. And now here comes the controversial part: The doctor “shall report each woman who refuses to seek treatment for an alcohol-related or drug-related problem or who misses two (2) or more appointments to the department of children’s services.” What ever happened to the doctor-patient confidentiality here? There are some rather unclear and contradictory clauses about confidentiality provided that may be unsatisfactory to the reporting health care worker and the patient.

As a consolation, the test results cannot supposedly be used as evidence in any criminal proceedings. But it is not clear what are the consequences if doctor or patient or both refuse to cooperate.

I am all for protecting the unborn child from undue damage that alcohol, drugs, and smoking can cause. But does it justify coercion of the mother? Why should there be a competition between the fetus’ rights and the mother’s rights? Aren’t they a unit, a team, and should be treated as such? Aren’t there more proactive (and less coercive) ways of preventing substance abuse during pregnancy?

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