The Crack-Baby Myth…Apparently
In an occurrence of “link drift”, I stumbled upon an interesting article at ThinkProgress. Yes, sites like that are usually heavily biased, but looking past that I found some very interesting research.
“Tennessee Arrests First Mother Under Its New Pregnancy Criminalization Law“. Well, obviously, nobody makes it a crime to be pregnant, except maybe the Chinese because of their One Child policy. But this isn’t China, this is Tennessee, and a Conservative state like that is usually making laws against ending pregnancy, not being pregnant, so my curiosity was piqued.
Cutting to the chase, that title was wildly misleading; the issue is drug use among pregnant women. “Loyola is the first woman to be arrested under a new law in Tennessee that allows the state to criminally charge mothers for potentially causing harm to their fetuses by using drugs.”
Lynn Paltrow, the executive director of National Advocates for Pregnant Women (NAPW), seemed to nit-pick about the law only covering “narcotics”, but that this first arrest under the law had nothing to do with narcotics. Well, there are a couple definitions of “narcotics”. Medically, Paltrow is right, as the arrest was made over cocaine use and cocaine is not (medically) a narcotic (a drug that is given to people in small amounts to make them sleep or feel less pain). However, there is another definition of “narcotic”, and that is “a drug (such as cocaine, heroin, or marijuana) that affects the brain and that is usually dangerous and illegal”.
If the intent of the law is to protect babies from drug abuse, do we really need to nit-pick definitions?
But anyway, many medical groups, “including the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and the American Public Health Association”, are against the law because of the risk that fear of prosecution will deter women from seeking necessary health services during pregnancy. That’s a fair enough reason–in making laws, to be wise, one needs to think of how people will react to them. And if the intent of the law is to protect children* from the dangers of drug use, then it would seem to be wisdom to favor “healthcare, not handcuffs”.
While a valid concern, I think, that is not the main point I’m interested in.
The important point is that the whole law appears to be based on belief, instead of evidence.
Quite contrary to my expectations, there seems to be no evidence that drug use (in this instance, specifically cocaine) actually has a deleterious effect on fetal development, according to a long-term study that came out last year (actually, it came out in 2011, but was publicized in 2013). Instead, “poverty is a more powerful influence on the outcome of inner-city children than gestational exposure to cocaine”, according to the lead researcher, Dr. Hallam Hurt.
Hurt’s study wasn’t the first to find no correlation between in utero drug use and fetal development, but it appears to be the longest-running study of its type.
On the other hand, several studies have found numerous negative health effects associated with smoking (cigarettes) during pregnancy. One study asks “where are the ‘tobacco babies’?”, and answers that they are absent because of societal expectations and beliefs.
Running your life, or worse, other people’s lives, upon unfounded belief can have terrible consequences; people can be put in jail for life because of it, or in the more extreme, be burned at the stake because of it.
As I prepare to hit “publish”, I worry that I’ve missed something. This seems to have been too easy. I’ve spent a morning researching this. I’m just some random guy who has a blog and access to google, and already it seems clear that the Tennessee law (and similar laws elsewhere) is either based on belief rather than evidence (the whole “war on drugs” thing), even though there is evidence available to dispel that belief, or has a deeper, more sinister, motive behind it.
*DISCLAIMER: When I say “protect children”, I am not saying that a fertilized egg is a child (as was mentioned in the article I linked to). I’m saying that potential health risks to the child apply here because the only way there could be health risks to the child is if the baby is born. So, a fertilized egg that doesn’t implant for whatever reason doesn’t count.