A string of recent media reports has brought attention to a troubling development out of Alabama: for months, pregnant women in the state have been jailed for smoking cannabis.
Most of the coverage has centered around Ashley Banks, a 23-year-old Alabama woman who was arrested in late May “with a small amount of marijuana and a pistol without a permit to carry,” according to AL.com.
“Under normal circumstances, the 23-year-old from Gadsden would have been able to post bond and leave jail until her criminal trial,” the outlet reported. “But Banks admitted to smoking pot on the same day she found out she was pregnant – two days before her arrest. In Etowah County, that meant she couldn’t leave jail unless she entered drug rehab, leaving her in limbo for three months.”
According to The Washington Post, that is a result of a law in Etowah, where nearly all “pregnant or postpartum women who are charged with endangering their fetus via drugs have to remain in jail until they complete a drug-treatment program, without an assessment of whether that condition is appropriate for them.”
So, Banks languished in the county detention center for three months “while she endured severe vaginal bleeding and two emergency room visits that left her fearful for her high-risk pregnancy,” The Washington Post reported, adding that a “court-contracted substance abuse agency twice told her that she didn’t qualify for treatment because she wasn’t addicted to drugs, leaving her in limbo until a judge granted her release Aug. 25 on conditions that did not include drug treatment.”
Banks is apparently not the only one to be subject to such treatment.
The Guardian reports on another woman, Hali Burns, who “was taken to the Etowah county jail just six days after giving birth to her son, with police saying that she had tested positive for a drug used by pregnant women with opioid addictions to help manage cravings and withdrawal.”
“When she was thrown in jail, Burns was still physically recovering from giving birth. But the jail had no facilities for her to pump or tend to her wounds. Her partner tried to bring pads and underwear to her, so that she wouldn’t have to bleed into her clothes, but Etowah county authorities wouldn’t let her have them. The risk for infection was great – the indignity was even greater,” The Guardian reported.
The National Advocates for Pregnant Women, a legal nonprofit organization, describes Etowah County “ground zero of pregnancy criminalization,” according to The Washington Post, with more than 150 such cases in the past decade.
“The prosecution’s alleged justification for this is that this is needed to protect the women’s ‘unborn’ and born children,” said Emma Roth, a staff attorney at National Advocates for Pregnant Women, as quoted by The Washington Post. “When the reality is: This puts the health and well-being of these women at risk, and their pregnancies and their children at risk.”
According to The Guardian, the Supreme Court’s decision earlier this summer to overturn Roe v. Wade “didn’t create this state of affairs, but it’s likely to worsen it.”
“The policy in place in Etowah county and elsewhere reveals the warped logic and hateful absurdities of the anti-choice worldview,” the outlet said. “The movement claims to see embryos and fetuses as persons, and in practice they speak as if these “persons” are not women’s equals, but their superiors: the fetus is conceived of as more important than the woman, more worthy, less tainted by those things that make a pregnant woman so unappealing – her femaleness, her sexuality, her tendency to have human desires and human struggles, like irritation or addiction or anger. In the service of protecting and advancing this superior being of the fetus, the anti-choice movement claims, it is justifiable, even necessary, to steal the freedom of those lesser women.”