If there is anything we’ve learned in the last few years, it’s that Texas is a state that says it loves babies and pregnant people.
In 2011 it passed a mandatory ultrasound bill in what Republican Governor Rick Perry declared was an “emergency.” In 2013 Texas was so desperate to make it difficult to access medication abortion, to ban later abortions, and to close as many abortion providers as possible that it held not one but two special legislative sessions to get the job done. In addition, the state has defunded many of the providers that offer birth control and has redirected those funds to crisis pregnancy centers to support bringing unwanted and unintended pregnancies to term. Texas even fought to keep the body of a woman who was already brain-dead on life support against her own family’s wishes just to try to get the fetus that woman was carrying far enough along to survive a premature birth.
Apparently, however, this support of pregnancy, birth and protection of the fetus above all other concerns stops at the prison walls.
Jessica De Samito, who was on parole after a drug possession charge, had her parole revoked by Guadalupe County Jail when she tested positive for opiates–yet she’d not fallen back on old ways. De Samito was pregnant and had just begun methadone to treat her addiction. Methadone treatment is considered the best course for those who are pregnant and have an opiate addiction, as it fights the stress the fetus endures as the mother suffers withdrawal and lessens the likelihood of the mother using again.
Some factions claim that methadone during a pregnancy can result in neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS), but far more groups say that the risk of NAS is exaggerated and argue that putting the fetus through the same withdrawal process while still in utero is just as likely to be harmful and may even be more so because the fetus is still in its developmental stages.
Despite all this, the jail has chosen to deny De Samito her methadone care.
National Advocates for Pregnant Women (NAPW), which submitted an affidavit on De Samito’s behalf, noted that by denying De Samito methadone they are not only punishing her by forcing her through withdrawal, but are doing so at the risk of danger to the fetus, potentially jeopardizing the pregnancy and with no real benefit.
“No woman should be punished with the denial of health care and the threat of stillbirth,” said NAPW’s Kylee Sunderlin in a statement. “Forced sudden withdrawal is not only dangerous to Ms. De Samito and her pregnancy, but has been condemned as ‘tantamount to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment’ by a 2013 U.N. human rights report.”
The denial of methadone in the Guadalupe County Jail has implications far beyond just this area in Texas, or even just this state.
As a number of legislatures pass bills that put extra penalties and jail sentences on pregnant drug users, all under the guise of trying to reduce the number of babies born with NAS, they miss the need to monitor and evaluate the treatment the women who face incarceration are being subjected to.
We’ve already seen states like Alabama and Tennessee push to imprison women who test positive for opiates, a policy that is likely to cause a number of pregnant people with addictions to avoid doctors and prenatal care entirely, all out of a fear of prison. That fear is only going to balloon if it becomes clear that, if caught and jailed, they will be forced through immediate withdrawal that would not only be excruciating to them but could cause them to miscarry, have a stillbirth, or a desperately premature infant with long-lasting health issues.
Legislatures that have been proposing increased penalties, especially jail, for pregnant addicts have claimed these bills are necessary to protect these infants and give them a better hope for a healthy life. However, denying them standard medical care and purposefully endangering these pregnancies makes it clear that “healthier babies” was just lip service.
We have to stop and wonder, then, are these politicians really as “pro-life” and “pro-baby” as they pretend? Or are they really just looking for an excuse to hurt and punish women who are not being the “perfect mothers” these politicians want them to be.
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