ACLU Asks Alabama Court To Protect The Rights Of Pregnant Women

July 6, 2010

MONTGOMERY, AL – The American Civil Liberties Union submitted a friend-of-the-court brief today challenging the conviction of a woman who tried to continue her pregnancy while struggling with a drug addiction, but whose baby died after being born extremely premature.

Amanda Kimbrough was charged under a “chemical endangerment” statute that was intended to keep children out of methamphetamine labs. However, a local district attorney unlawfully used the statute to prosecute Kimbrough solely because she allegedly tested positive for drugs at the hospital where she gave birth. 

“Deciding to continue a pregnancy should never be considered a crime, even if a woman is struggling with addiction,” said Alexa Kolbi-Molinas, staff attorney with the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project. “If a pregnant woman can be prosecuted for her behavior or illness, then literally everything she does or does not do — including choosing to have a baby despite an underlying health condition — could land her in jail.”

The ACLU argues that using the law this way infringes on a woman’s fundamental right to continue a pregnancy and singles out pregnant women for discrimination.

Similar attempts to punish pregnant women who suffer from addiction have been struck down as unconstitutional, as in a recent case in Kentucky in which the ACLU was also involved. In addition, leading medical groups like the American Medical Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics oppose these prosecutions because they drive women out of the health care system for fear of being prosecuted. 

“Not only are these prosecutions unconstitutional, but they make for extremely bad public policy,” said Allison Neal, attorney with the ACLU of Alabama. “If we are truly interested in supporting healthy moms and babies, we should provide pregnant women with prenatal care, treatment and support to overcome their addiction, not jail time.”

The ACLU’s brief can be found here:

A list of position statements of medical associations opposing criminal sanctions for pregnant women can be found here:


New Parole Advocates Join the Team!

Last Saturday, AWRN held a Parole Advocacy Training in Birmingham, AL.  New advocates joined the team from Madison County, Lee County, and Jefferson County.  Five women in prison were paired with advocates and are receiving word in the mail this week that not only will they be receiving help with their parole hearing, they will also be receiving help in coordinating a solid plan for reentry–all free! 

AWRN could not sustain its programming without the generous support of the Ms. Foundation, AWRN’s members, and the time and money invested by parole advocates. 

Still, AWRN needs your help in continuing the services of the Parole Advocacy Team and AWRN’s advocacy programming.  Please call AWRN at (205) 916-0135 x501 to make a donation or to contribute in-kind items AWRN needs (stamps, copy paper, and ink to name a few!).

Health Experts Warn Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals That Prosecuting Pregnant Women As Drug Labs Is Bad For Babies

For Immediate Release:                          

Contact:         Catherine Roden-Jones

July 9, 2010

Health Experts Warn Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals That Prosecuting Pregnant Women As Drug Labs Is Bad For Babies


MONTGOMERY, ALABAMA- Today, attorneys asked the court for permission to file an Amicus Curiae (friend-of-the-court) brief in the case A.K. v. Alabama (Docket: CR-09-0485) on behalf of twenty-four public health advocates, organizations and experts.  This public health brief has been filed in support of A.K., who was convicted under Alabama’s chemical endangerment law because she attempted to carry her pregnancy to term in spite of a drug problem.

In 2005, Alabama passed a “chemical endangerment” law that was designed to provide special criminal penalties for parents who allow their children in or around methamphetamine labs.  Almost immediately, several Alabama district attorneys interpreted the new law to create a new criminal penalty for women who became pregnant and sought to continue to term in spite of a drug problem. More than 25 women have been prosecuted under the chemical endangerment law because they continued their pregnancies in spite of a drug problem.

The Alabama Women’s Resource Network is proud to join groups including the American Public Health Association and the National Association of Social Workers in bringing to the court’s attention the danger of such a policy. The Alabama Women’s Resource Network is an organization that strives to significantly reduce the number of women in prison by promoting investment in a statewide network of community programs that responsibly and effectively treat drug addiction, provide pathways out of domestic violence, develop jobs skills, and improve the physical and mental health of women.  “Pregnant Women struggling with a drug problem need effective treatment, not prosecution. These prosecutions are bad for both babies and mothers as a matter of public health,” said Catherine Roden-Jones of the Alabama Women’s Resource Network.

This policy is a misguided attempt to protect children from what many believe are the devastating effects of illegal drug use. Fortunately, as the brief describes and the South Carolina Supreme Court recently unanimously acknowledged, the scientific research in this area shows that the effects of drug use during pregnancy are comparable to those of smoking cigarettes, and are, in fact, akin to the risks presented by many common conditions and experiences of pregnant women.

The brief filed today argues that the prosecution and conviction of A.K. violates the plain language and intent of Alabama’s chemical endangerment statute, is unsupported by scientific research, is contrary to the consensus judgment of medical practitioners and their professional organizations, and undermines individual and public health. It urges the Court to refuse the prosecutorial invitation to judicially expand the chemical endangerment law and requests that the Court overturn A.K.’s conviction.

The organizations and experts who filed this brief are: The American Public Health Association; National Association of Social Workers; Alabama Women’s Resource Network; American Academy of Addiction Psychiatry; American Society of Addiction Medicine; Center for Gender and Justice; Child Welfare Organizing Project; Citizens for Midwifery; Global Lawyers and Physicians; The Institute for Health and Recovery; International Center for Advancement of Addiction Treatment; National Association of Nurse Practitioners in Women’s Health; National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence; National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health; National Organization for Women (NOW)- Alabama ; National Women’s Health Network; Our Bodies Ourselves; The Southern Center for Human Rights; Nancy Day MPH., PhD.; Deborah A. Frank, M.D.; Leslie Hartley Gise, M.D.; Stephen R. Kandall, M.D.; James Nocon, M.D., J.D.; Linda L.M. Worley, MD.

Attorneys on the case include Mary Bauer of the Southern Poverty Law Center, Tamar Todd of the Drug Policy Alliance, Kathrine Jack, and Lynn Paltrow, both of National Advocates for Pregnant Women. A special thanks also goes out to the Law Student summer Interns, Jolene Forman of DPA and Amanda Melnick, Rush Miller, and Noor Kapoor of NAPW.

Sometimes the good stuff is in the readers’ comments

On July 7th, a story about an inmate attacking a correctional officer in the Houston County Jail ran in the Dothan Eagle.  While information about assaults on prisoners rarely comes out in the papers, the story on July 7th has produced a mountain of commentary that is also not often seen–internal trash talk by supposed employees of the jail!

Read here to see the all-out internet war!

Renovation contracts for Alabama prisons put on hold by lawmaker


Read full article from Huntsville Times here.

Two contracts that would generate about $98 million for state prison renovations through an innovative energy savings program were unexpectedly put on hold today.