Court Hears Drug-Test Arguments 

Court Hears Drug-Test Arguments 
Posted by FoM on October 05, 2000 at 06:05:54 PT
By Charles Lane, Washington Post Staff Writer
Source: Washington Post
The Supreme Court held a spirited, sometimes heated argument yesterday on the question of whether the Constitution permits a public hospital to send pregnant women who test positive for cocaine to law enforcement authorities.At issue in Ferguson v. City of Charleston is a policy under which the Medical University of South Carolina administered drug tests to pregnant women without a search warrant and then forwarded some positive results to the police.
A victory for the women could indicate that the court is growing reluctant to add to the list of governmental "special needs" that may justify warrantless searches. A victory for the city, however, might considerably expand that doctrine. "If[the women lose, it means that if authorities want to do anything with a benevolent motive, it's okay," said Prof. Susan Herman of Brooklyn Law School.The case has aroused strong feelings not only because of its potential practical effects on police powers, but also because it touches on questions of racial discrimination and the legal status of fetal life.The hospital's patient population is overwhelmingly poor and African American. All but one of the women arrested under the policy were black. Mothers who tested positive faced charges not only because cocaine use itself is illegal, but also because, under South Carolina law, a viable fetus is considered a "person," and a woman who takes cocaine while pregnant may be considered to have distributed illegal drugs to a minor, or to have committed child abuse.In 1993, 10 women whose drug test results were given to law enforcement--including nine who were arrested, but not prosecuted--sued in federal court, claiming, in part, that the policy violated the Fourth Amendment's prohibition against unreasonable searches.Federal district and appellate courts ruled in favor of Charleston. The Richmond-based 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals held that the policy was justified under the "special needs" exception to the Fourth Amendment, concluding that the urine tests were "minimally intrusive" and that hospital officials had a substantial interest in reducing cocaine use by pregnant women.The hospital devised the policy in 1989 with the cooperation of local police and prosecutors. Robert H. Hood, Charleston's attorney, insisted that the intent of the policy--which was eventually modified to offer drug treatment as an alternative to arrest--was not to punish women, but to save them and their children from medical harm.Hood said the same criteria for deciding which mothers to test were applied to all patients, regardless of race.But attorneys for the women, who are supported by a host of medical and public health organizations, including South Carolina's state physicians' and nurses' associations, contend that the threat of arrest would deter women from seeking prenatal care at the hospital. That would defeat the policy's declared purpose and remove any conceivable "special need" that could justify an exception to the Fourth Amendment."If the real interest here is producing healthy babies and healthy pregnancies, then criminal prosecution is not what works," said Priscilla Smith, an attorney for the Center for Reproductive Law and Policy who represented the women before the court yesterday.Originally, the women who sued to stop the policy also contended that it was selectively enforced against African American women. That claim did not survive in the district court, where a jury found that the women had signed valid consent forms agreeing to the tests.But in yesterday's arguments, Smith noted that Charleston authorities had "set out to test certain people, in a certain area," and some justices seemed to share her implicit suspicion of the policy's impact on poor minorities.Justice John Paul Stevens repeatedly noted that the policy was carried out in only one of Charleston's hospitals. "Was there ever any effort to extend the policy to other hospitals?" Stevens asked Hood, who acknowledged that there had not been.A high-profile Supreme Court decision upholding the Charleston policy might be viewed as a green light by other jurisdictions that want to experiment with similar measures to fight drug abuse and protect fetal life, some legal analysts said."This is an area where you'll see more legislatures try to wrestle with this," said Richard Garnett, an assistant professor at Notre Dame Law School.Hood said, however, that the doctors and management of the Charleston hospital have no plans to revive the policy, which was suspended in 1993 when the lawsuit began. Under a new state policy, cocaine-using pregnant women are turned over to social services agencies, not police, he said."All they were was doctors trying to help women and they got sued for money," he said. "So they said the hell with it."In a second case yesterday, Legal Services Corp. v. Velazquez, the court considered a 1996 law banning Legal Services Corp. lawyers from challenging welfare reform statutes on behalf of their clients. A group of welfare recipients claims that the law constitutes a restriction on lawyers' free speech, because it necessarily discriminates against certain viewpoints.In 1991, the court rejected similar arguments, holding that the government may prevent doctors who receive federal funds from discussing abortion with their patients.Source: Washington Post (DC) Author: Charles Lane, Washington Post Staff WriterPublished: Thursday , October 5, 2000 ; Page A11Contact: letterstoed washpost.comAddress: 1150 15th Street NorthwestWashington, DC 20071 2000 The Washington Post Company Website: Related Articles:Court Issues Orders and Hears Drug Testing Case Court To Weigh Drug Testing of Mothers Drug Testing Archives:
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Comment #1 posted by ras james on October 05, 2000 at 14:12:52 PT
birth dangers and drugs
two of the most dangerous drugs for expecting mothers to take are alcohol and nicotine. these future mothers need medical, psychological, and spiritual help not jail time. the same goes for expecting mothers who use cocaine.  rasta is the future and the future is now. give all praise and thanks to jah rastafarI..who liveth and reignith in I and I.
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