Will the New Jersey Supreme Court Treat Pregnant Women Separately and Unequally?

Tomorrow, Tuesday September 9, 2014 at 1:00 pm EST, the New Jersey Supreme Court will hear oral argument in New Jersey Department of Youth and Family Services vs. Y.N that will determine whether New Jersey will become the only state in the U.S. to effectively ban pregnant women from receiving methadone treatment.

At the center of the case is a woman, identified by the court as Y.N., who had been struggling with a dependency on a prescribed opioid painkiller. When she found out she was pregnant, she followed medical advice and obtained methadone treatment. She gave birth to a healthy baby who was successfully treated for symptoms of neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS). NAS is a side effect of methadone treatment and other medications, such as those commonly prescribed to treat depression. Y.N. was reported to the Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS) and was judged to have abused her child.

According to DYFS and the lower court, that the newborn experienced symptoms of NAS -- which they define as "harm" -- was all that matters. The fact that Y.N. was following a medically approved and prescribed course of methadone treatment was deemed to be irrelevant.

Pregnancy Justice with Lawrence S. Lustberg of Gibbons P.C., represents 76 organizations and experts in maternal, fetal, and child health, addiction treatment, and health advocacy as amici curiae (friends of the court) before the New Jersey Supreme Court. As the brief points out, DYFS's position and the lower court's decision fly in the face not only of the recommendations of the World Health Organization and the U.S. government, but of New Jersey's own policy. DYFS, the very same agency that targeted Y.N., collaborates with the New Jersey Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services to provide and prioritize methadone treatment for pregnant women and parents involved in the child welfare system.

Tomorrow, September 9, 2014, Mr. Lustberg will urge the court to ensure that pregnant women, no less than others, have a right to seek and obtain medical care and to have decisions about them based on science, not stigma.

Oral arguments are open to the public, but if you are unable to make it to Trenton, NJ please join our Director of Legal Advocacy, Sara Ainsworth, in viewing the live webcast. It will be accessible via the New Jersey Supreme Court's webcast site. We will be tweeting on the hashtag #ScienceNotStigma to answer your questions about the proceedings.

Pregnant women, whether threatened with punishment through civil child welfare actions in New Jersey or arrest in Tennessee (see "The right's favorite new quack: Terri Lynn Weaver's dangerous baby 'science'"), need Pregnancy Justice's support and zealous advocacy.