Substance addiction is a terrible disease. It’s hard enough for any person to cope with — but, when you’re carrying an unborn child, it can seem an impossible situation to get out of. You want to find help, but you’re worried: What will happen to my baby if they find out I’m taking illegal drugs when pregnant?
This is a very real worry for many women, and you’re not alone in thinking about this. Getting help can be hard when you feel like your parental rights are on the line. And knowing where to go — where they will respect you as a person with a disease, not a criminal — can seem impossible.
As tough as it may be, remember that you are not alone. It’s estimated that 5 percent of women use illicit drugs during their pregnancies. And, with addiction rates rising across the country, your situation is not unique. There is help.
But, before you reach out to local resources, you probably want to learn more about laws against using drugs while pregnant. Could they stop you from getting the help you need?
You can find more information on this topic below, but right now, we encourage you to contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP(4327). They can help you connect with medical professionals who will not judge you for your situation — but help you create the future you and your baby deserve.
Is It Illegal To Use Drugs While Pregnant?
We understand that you are concerned about the legal consequences of taking illegal drugs while pregnant. Unfortunately, there is no single answer to this question.
Every state regulates “using-drugs-while-pregnant” laws differently. There are no federal policies making it “illegal” to do drugs while pregnant, excepting for the fact that certain substances are illegal across the United States.
In most cases, legal repercussions for drug use during pregnancy come after a baby is born. That’s why it’s so important that you reach out for help now if you are pregnant and using drugs. There are resources to help you overcome your addiction and become the parent that your child deserves.
Are There Any Laws Against Using Drugs While Pregnant?
If you are using drugs while pregnant, laws vary on what steps can be taken by hospitals, law enforcement officers and child service organizations. These laws are always changing so, while the information below may be helpful, it’s not intended to be and should not be taken as legal advice. Instead, please speak with a professional at SAMHSA’s National Helpline or a local treatment center near you for the most accurate information.
That said, there are a few things you should know about “drugs-while-pregnant” law across the U.S.:
- Most states have tried, at one point or another, to prosecute women for drug use during pregnancy. Since 1973, authorities in at least 45 states have tried to prosecute women for exposing unborn children to drugs. Unfortunately, attempted prosecutions continue, even in states where courts have previously rejected this legal approach.
- While many states consider substance use during pregnancy “child abuse,” only three states consider it grounds for civil commitment. Currently, a pregnant woman may go to jail for using drugs while pregnant in Minnesota, South Dakota and Wisconsin.
- Some states require testing and reporting if prenatal substance abuse is suspected. Eight states require testing if drug use is diagnosed or suspected, while 25 states mandate reporting if drug usage is suspected. State laws vary on whether this testing and reporting is done prior to a child’s birth or after the child has tested positive in the hospital.
The good news is that many states have laws protecting a pregnant woman’s right to treatment. So, if you are using drugs while pregnant, laws may prohibit publicly funded drug treatment programs from discriminating against you. Many states have created programs just for women like you, while others will provide you with priority access to state-funded drug treatment programs.
It’s normal to be worried about laws against using drugs while pregnant. You may be hesitant about getting help for this very reason. However, because laws vary so greatly by state, it’s still a good idea to reach out to a local rehabilitation center or treatment facility. They can help explain which laws may impact you and help you get the support you need during this difficult time.
What Happens if You Use Illegal Drugs While Pregnant?
While every state’s laws against using drugs while pregnant will vary, there are some common situations that occur.
When a woman is addicted to drugs or alcohol at the time of her child’s birth, depending on state laws, a hospital official may make a report to her local Department of Child Services. This is often required if a baby is born testing positive for certain illicit drugs. The Department will likely take custody of the child for their own safety, placing them with a foster family. The mother will then need to go through certain steps (including getting sober) before reunification can be possible.
If you are struggling with drug addiction, you will need to take steps to secure your child’s safety before birth. The foster care system can be extremely difficult for children. As a mother, you should make a plan for your child if you cannot detox before birth.
You have two options:
- Temporary guardianship: If you have a loved one in mind, you can choose them to take custody of your child after birth. This is a temporary legal agreement, designed to give you time to overcome your addiction and improve your situation. When you are ready, you can take back custody of your child.
- Adoption: If you aren’t confident in your long-term sobriety, you may instead choose to place your child for adoption. While you will terminate your parental rights, you will be able to choose the parents your child grows up with and maintain a relationship with him or her in the years to come. It’s a selfless and difficult decision to provide your child a life you may not able to give. Contact an agency like American Adoptions for more information.
If you are taking illegal drugs while pregnant or otherwise dealing with substance abuse during your pregnancy, you need to think about your and your child’s future. You have nothing to be ashamed of; many women have been in your situation. They’ve gotten help, and you can, too. In fact, by coming to this article, you are taking the first step toward what is best for your child.
Don’t let the fear of potential “using-drugs-while-pregnant” laws stop you from getting the help you need. Find a treatment center near you with this directory.