Measure forces care on pregnant, meth-hooked women

2008-02-26T00:00:00Z Measure forces care on pregnant, meth-hooked womenBy Howard Fischer Capitol Media Services Arizona Daily Star
February 26, 2008 12:00 am  • 

PHOENIX — Pregnant women who are addicted to methamphetamine could be taken into custody and involuntarily held in treatment programs if a new state initiative is approved.

The Senate Judiciary Committee took the first steps toward approving SB 1500 Monday, mandating that state Child Protective Services workers go to court if they know or have reasonable grounds to believe a mother-to-be is using meth and is not getting voluntary treatment.

That order would require the mother to cooperate.

The legislation would let CPS ask a judge to have sheriff's deputies actually pick up the woman and bring her to a facility for treatment.

Sen. Pamela Gorman, R-Anthem, said she's not normally a proponent of government intervention into private lives.

"But I do think that the state has some very specific roles," she said. "And one of them is to protect people from harm from other people."

Critics of the proposal are concerned that Gorman is trying to give the measure some teeth by extending the definition of what now constitutes "child abuse" to fetuses.

Sen. Ken Cheuvront, D-Phoenix, pointed out the existing definition of child abuse includes acts that endanger the life of a child. He said Gorman's bill could be interpreted as prohibiting abortion.

From a practical standpoint, Cheuvront said he doubts that Gov. Janet Napolitano would sign any bill she believes interferes with the right of a woman to terminate her pregnancy.

Gorman said that wasn't her intent.

But committee members refused to remove that language.

Gorman said this kind of intervention is necessary given the "highly addictive" nature of methamphetamine.

She said it's difficult for people to break that habit. And even someone who is highly motivated will have trouble and occasionally backslide.

"I would propose that a child can't wait for a year for backsliding off good intentions to be released from being forced-fed methamphetamines by the mother," Gorman said.

Herschella Horton, lobbyist for the state Department of Economic Security, said anything the state can do to help anyone break addictions is a good thing.

"I don't know that this is the proper way to address it," she said. Horton said this legislation requires CPS to figure out what to do with that pregnant woman once she is taken into custody, including where to take her for court-ordered treatment.

She told lawmakers that her agency now gets involved only after a child is born, and only if it believes the child's life or welfare is in danger. Horton said that includes situations when an infant might be born to a woman who was addicted to drugs during her pregnancy — an addiction that may have left the baby with severe problems.

"When CPS goes in and looks at them, we say, 'Is it safe for this mother to have this child?' " she said. "We look at safety issues for the child and try to get help for the mother, so that if at all possible we could return the child to her."

The measure now goes to the full Senate.

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