Pregnancy and Drug and Alcohol Use


Pregnancy Justice defends people who are pregnant and use alcohol or drugs.

Pregnancy Justice is the leading organization providing pro bono (free) legal assistance to people who have been charged with a crime because they were pregnant and used alcohol or a criminalized drug, obtained or used drugs that are safe and effective in ending a pregnancy (see e.g. Plan C and SASS) or used treatment drugs such as methadone and buprenorphine and did so in a manner prescribed to them by a physician.

Pregnancy Justice has also helped family defense lawyers successfully challenge civil child welfare actions based on the claim that having used a criminalized drug or medication such as methadone while pregnant is evidence of civil child abuse and neglect.

When people think of “drugs” they generally think it means drugs (controlled substances) that have been criminalized and targeted by U.S. drug policies. These include marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamine and opioids such as heroin or oxycodone. Statistically, very few pregnant people use such substances, and even fewer have a substance use disorder. Only a small percent (4-5%) of pregnant people use any controlled substance and the majority of those who do, use marijuana, sometimes, as an effective way to combat morning sickness.

Because there has been so much misinformation about drugs, it is hard for many people to accept the actual scientific evidence that tells us that none of these drugs have been found to cause miscarriage or stillbirth.

Furthermore, scientific research has clearly shown that these drugs do not cause the kind of frightening significant, specific, and permanent harm to children that is often claimed. Fear and widespread myths about the impact of such drug use, however, have been used by police, prosecutors, judges, and legislators to justify arrests and other forms of control over all pregnant people — not just those who use or are suspected of using one or another criminalized drug.

While there is much scientific evidence of potential harm from the use of alcohol, particularly when used in very large quantities, we also know that threats of arrest and other forms of state control do not help people with drug and alcohol dependency problems overcome those problems. Arrests and other government action aimed at controlling pregnant people do, however, frighten them away from what help might be available to them.

Pregnancy Justice has played a major role in challenging the junk “science” regarding pregnancy and drug use and has helped to get charges dropped and convictions overturned in numerous cases where the excuse for the arrest or punitive child welfare intervention was the fact that a person was pregnant and drank alcohol or used a drug.

Pregnancy Justice believes that no person should fear arrest or be subjected to other forms of government control or punishment as a result of pregnancy or any outcome of pregnancy.

Call us or have your lawyer reach us at 212-255-9252.

The issue of drug and alcohol use is in fact interconnected with the all of the other issues Pregnancy Justice addresses and all of Pregnancy Justice’s work reflects this.

Need to Know


None of the criminalized drugs are teratogens (drugs that cause birth defects).


Some newborns exposed prenatally to opioids & medications for opioid dependency may experience a set of temporary, treatable symptoms called Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome. These symptoms can be prevented or reduced by ensuring newborns stay with their mothers, experience skin to skin contact, and benefit from being breastfed.


None of the criminalized drugs (cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin etc) have been shown to be effective at causing pregnancy loss. Do not use these to try and end a pregnancy.

Pregnancy Justice's Work: Pregnancy and Drug and Alcohol Use