Leading Physicians, Scientific Researchers, and Medical, Public Health, and Child Welfare Organizations Oppose Treating Pregnant Women Who Give Birth in Spite of a Drug Problem as Felony Child Abusers
On May 7 at 9 a.m., the Supreme Court of the State of New Mexico will hear oral arguments in the case of State of New Mexico v. Martinez, which concerns the state's attempt to expand the criminal child abuse laws to reach pregnant women and fetuses. In this case the state argues that a pregnant woman who cannot overcome an addiction problem before she gives birth should be sent to jail as a felony child abuser.
The Drug Policy Alliance (“DPA”) and the Pregnancy Justice (“Pregnancy Justice”) filed a friend-of-the-court brief https://www.drugpolicy.org/docUploads/NMvMartinezAmicusBrief.pdf on behalf of the New Mexico Public Health Association, the New Mexico Nurses Association, and nearly three dozen other leading medical and public health organizations, physicians, and scientific researchers. It informs the Court that the state’s prosecution of Ms. Martinez lacks foundation in law and medical science, interferes with the provider-patient relationship, undermines both maternal and fetal health, and ignores the fact that pregnant women, mothers, and families lack access to family drug treatment in New Mexico.
Dr. Eve Espey, an associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of New Mexico, joined the amicus brief, stating, "Addiction is recognized as a treatable disease by all medical authorities, and pregnant women and parents with addictions can and do recover. New Mexico should be focusing on increasing access to family drug treatment programs and supportive health care, not costly, ineffective, and punitive prison sentences."
Ms. Cynthia Martinez was charged with felony child abuse "for permitting a child under 18 years of age to be placed in a situation that may endanger the child's life or health. . ." Amicus argued in part that virtually everything a pregnant woman does or does not do "may endanger" the fetus, and that treating pregnancy as a crime will deter women from seeking care that advances both maternal and fetal health interests. Ms. Martinez pleaded guilty, but retained the right to appeal. A state appeals court overturned the conviction and held that the state’s child abuse statutes do not apply in the context of pregnancy. The prosecutor appealed the decision and the case is now before the New Mexico Supreme Court.
Dr. Dona Upson, an associate professor of medicine at the University of New Mexico who also signed the amicus brief, said, "Behavioral health problems need to be dealt with as public health issues, not addressed through the criminal justice system.”
Ms. Martinez is represented by Jane Wishner of the Southwest Women's Law Center and the law firm of Freedman Boyd Daniels Hollander Goldberg & Ives, P.A.
A complete list of the Amici appears below:
New Mexico Section of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
New Mexico Public Health Association
New Mexico Nurses Association
American College of Physicians, New Mexico
National Association of Social Workers
National Association of Social Workers, New Mexico
National Coalition for Child Protection Reform
Child Welfare Organizing Project
American Academy of Addiction Psychiatry
The Association for Medical Education and Research in Substance Abuse
American Public Health Association
Citizens for Midwifery
Doctors of the World-USA
The Hygeia Foundation, Inc.
National Perinatal Association
National Asian Pacific American Women's Forum
National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence
National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health
National Women's Health Network
Our Bodies Ourselves
Pegasus Legal Services for Children
Physicians and Lawyers for National Drug Policy
Center for Gender and Justice
Yolanda Briscoe, M.D.
Norton Kalishman, M.D.
Eve Espey, M.D.
Dona Upson, M.D., M.A.
Elizabeth M. Armstrong, Ph.D.
Wendy Chavkin, M.D., M.P.H.
Ellen Wright Clayton, M.D., J.D.
Nancy Day, M.P.H.
Leslie Hartley Gise, M.D.
Stephanie S. Covington, Ph.D., L.C.S.W.