By Jacob Sullum
Last week I noted an ACLU lawsuit by the parents of a baby girl whom government agents in Pennsylvania abducted because her mother tested positive for opiates in a hospital drug screen, thanks to poppy seeds on a bagel she had recently consumed. Charles Davis of Change.org reports that other parents have had similar experiences in Lawrence County, where
caseworkers and officials at Jameson Hospital conspire to separate mothers from their newborn infants based on nothing more than a positive drug test, without bothering to investigate whether the babies are in any danger. Sara Rose, the lead attorney in the lawsuit against Jameson Hospital annd Lawrence County Children & Youth Services (CYS), describes one such incident:
In that case, the mother "was admitted to Jameson and drug tested without her knowledge, and the drug test was positive for marijuana." The hospital then reported her to CYS, which told her that while her husband could take the child home, "she could not live in the same house and had to find another place to live or else the baby was going to be put in foster care."
For the first two months of her newborn daughter's life, the mother was only able to visit her child for one hour every other week until the ACLU was able to win her custody back in family court. But like countless others who have suffered the indignity of being called drug addicts and having their child taken away, the mother did not want to press ahead with a federal civil rights case.
The problem with Lawrence County's policy is not just that urinalysis is not always reliable. It is also that drug use during pregnancy does not ipso facto prove that a newborn is in danger of neglect or abuse, or that he would be better off in foster care. "By law," Davis notes, "the state is only permitted to take a child from its parents if there's clear evidence of abuse or imminent danger—and only as a last resort." The government does not (and should not) automatically seize the children of women who drink alcohol or smoke tobacco during pregnancy, and there is no rational reason to treat illegal drugs differently.