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If you’re a new mom and you’re just about to give birth, you might want to give some serious thought as to whereabouts you have your child when the time comes, if at all possible.
A recent news report shows that more than a dozen different hospitals in New York City are randomly drugs testing new mothers for the effects of cannabis and other harder drugs either before or just after they give birth, with the results of these tests being passed onto city agencies, sometimes without the mom’s say so.
On the surface, this sounds like it’s all well and good. A sensible procedure and precaution to make sure that both the mother and baby are in good health and not in any danger; but dig a little deeper and there is a lot more to it than you would first assume, uncovering a wider issue of discrimination and highlighting the obvious disparities in wealth between the different neighbourhoods in New York.
It seems that the testing is only occurring in the hospitals that serve some of the most poor and deprived communities in New York, meaning that if you live in a more affluent area and attend a private hospital (and indeed, take drugs), you’re pretty much exempt.
The scene therefore is this. If you’re a new mom that lives somewhere like the Bronx and you give birth in a hospital there, you’re subject to mandatory testing. If, for whatever reason you refuse, your baby is taken away and tested instead. Depending on the result, you may or may not lose your child. You may also have your home raided and find that the Administration For Children’s Services are on your back the whole time.
Conversely, if you live somewhere else, like within the realms of the affluent Nassau County, Long Island and you’re a regular party goer and drug user who checks into a nearby private hospital there to have a baby, you’re completely exempt. You can walk in, have your baby and walk out again without an issue.
Creating more problems than it solves
Putting aside the obvious disparity and unfairness of the exactly which areas of New York the tests are done in, concerns have also been raised about not only the way the tests are carried out, but also how effective they actually are.
In some cases, mothers have been parted from their children after testing positive for cannabis, when actually they haven’t used it at all. Some of the same compounds that are found in simple preparations such as infant washes and baby soaps can lead to a false positive reading that means new mothers can inadvertently find themselves in trouble with the courts.
In a report that was featured in the New York Daily News, the story of new mum Glarimar Cruz was highlighted. She failed a drugs test in a Bronx hospital that was sprung on her without warning. She did admit that a fortnight previously she had smoked one joint at a party. After this admission, her house was searched and she ended up on something called a “mommy probation” course. This is basically a year’s worth of parenting classes, drugs testing and therapy designed to her back on the right track. All for one joint.
Glarimar decided to fight her corner against the intervening agencies and after a period of some months, during which time she went through the family courts, the Administration For Children’s Services agreed to drop the case, though Cruz admitted she now felt emotionally scarred by the whole thing.
Ms. Cruzs’ case is not an isolated incident by any means, as current estimates show that as many as two hundred women a year are wrongly being charged with neglect after failing these tests, which might well be incorrect in the first place.
A similar 2012 case from New Jersey
These stories from New York follow a similar pattern to a number of others throughout the US and are most definitely not isolated incidents. Last year, an anonymous woman who gave birth in New Jersey, had an Amicus Curiae brief filed on her behalf after she had her baby taken away. She had been accused of child neglect and abuse, because she’d once tested positive for hard drugs. There were no other signs that her child was in any way suffering or in any danger. Over fifty different organisations, including child welfare representatives sided with the mother, stating that there was inadequate evidence to prove any incidences of child abuse purely from one test alone. Many of the organisations argued that such indiscriminate drug testing in pregnant women can actually prevent mothers from seeking help in the first instances of a genuine addiction when they really do need it, from properly organised services such as a New Jersey heroin treatment locator or a drug treatment facility in any of the other states. They worry about this particularly in the pre-natal stages of drug dependence, because they fear that they will be penalised and have their child taken away as a matter of course.
This is clearly something that has to change, with the current cases and stories in New York hospitals only serving to add more anger and fuel to the fire. It seems that money really does still talk and it is once more, to the detriment of people living in the poorer neighborhoods of the state.