Birth Control by Law? – Legislative Hearing
Written by Margaret Fisher, Institute for Citizen Education in the Law, Seattle, WA. Staff at the Washington State Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) updated the lesson in 2012. For more information, contact AOC Court Services, 1206 Quince Street SE, PO Box 41170, Olympia, WA 98504-1170. For an electronic copy of this lesson, or to view other lesson plans, visit Educational Resources on the Washington Courts Web site at: www.courts.wa.gov/education/.
One class period (approximately 50 minutes)
Seven copies each of Handouts 1-5
Provide some background information on abuse of drugs by pregnant women and the consequences to newborn babies. Show the webpage of the children at the Kent (WA) Pediatric Facility that helps babies addicted to drugs. www.picc.net/our%20babies.htm.
Have students take turns reading aloud the story of the babies.
Identify that today there is an explosive number of babies born addicted to prescription pain medicines (OxyContin and Vicodin) taken by their mothers. In addition, it has become common to find infants having numerous drugs in their system, unlike in the past when there was just one drug.
It is estimated that more than 12,000 babies are exposed each year in Washington State to illegal drugs. Of that number, 800 to 1,000 are drug- or alcohol-affected.
Explain current practice. In Washington, intake must be done on pregnant women when there is a report that they are using an illegal drug during the pregnancy. Those doing the intake must document information on a variety of issues relating to risk and protective factors, such as the history of drug use and the existence of support for the women. In addition, if the woman is parenting a child while pregnant, a Child Protective Services intake will be conducted.
During the pregnancy, the government only takes in information about the drug-using pregnant woman. Once the child is born, and if it the child is affected by controlled substances, the government will investigate and may set up a safe plan for the child. The plan will include, but is not limited to:
Proposed Law: Explain that this law is not a real bill or law, but will be used to promote discussion of the approach to illegal drug use and child birth.
“All women of child-bearing age convicted of drug abuse shall have the option of receiving a long-term birth control device or be sterilized rather than serving time in jail.”
Tell students that you will need approximately six to seven legislators on the committee that is considering this law, and the rest of the class will be divided into citizens testifying in favor and against the proposed law.
The judge denied an objection by the American Civil Liberties Union, saying, "How many children should a parent be allowed to abuse before the state has the right to say, ‘You can't have any more children until you can show you are not likely to abuse another child'? And how many children of a parent should the taxpayers of this state have to support in foster homes or alternate care before the state has the right to say, 'You can't have any more children until you take care of the ones you already have. '" (Los Angeles Times, 1993.) In one case in Georgia, shook her five-week old baby, killing her. The mother was charged with murder. The judge gave her the choice of pleading to voluntary manslaughter and receiving 5 years probation plus having her tubal ligation (2006).
HANDOUT 1Instructions for Legislators
First, select a chairperson. The chairperson is responsible for seeing that each committee member's views are heard during committee meetings, for chairing the hearing, for calling witnesses to testify, and for announcing the committee's decision. During the hearing, the chairperson should make sure that speakers do not take more than their allotted time and keep order.
Committee members should review the proposed law below and prepare questions for the witnesses whose names are listed below. Each legislator should have at least one question prepared to ask one witness.
Each witness will have up to two minutes to speak, plus time for questions.
In favor of the proposed law:
Against the proposed law:
Citizens in Favor of the Law
Select one or two spokespersons. You may create an additional role if you wish. Work together to prepare a two-minute argument that best expresses the views of L. Patrick and any additional arguments you can think of to support why this law should be passed.
L. Patrick, Administrator of the Medical Care Center for Newborns:
"I am getting impatient with these abusive parents. Many of the drug babies in our center are so hypersensitive they cry or even vomit if you try to pick them up. The ones that appear normal will have problems later in school. Right now we have one child whose mother has had ten drug-affected children. Her most recent baby has had heart surgery, eye problems, and has been hooked up to oxygen for his entire first year of life ... if you can call it life. The only way to prevent that woman and hundreds of others from having more children is to require them to accept a long-term birth control device or be sterilized. These women are not mentally competent to make their own decisions about birth control. I don't think they should have to pay for the birth control or sterilization, and if they stay clean for a certain amount of time, I think it should be removed the device if the woman wants. Let's stop worrying about the rights of the mother and worry about the rights of the child!"
Citizens in Favor of the Law
Select one or two spokespersons. You may create an additional role if you wish. Work together to prepare a two-minute argument that best expresses the views of A. Whitehead and any additional arguments you can think of to support why this law should be passed.
A. Whitehead, Social Worker:
"Most drug-addicted mothers have more than one child. Fewer than one in seven pregnant drug addicts in Washington get drug treatment. Many of these do not know about long-term birth control devices or sterilization. The only way to prevent more drug-addicted infants is to prevent these women from becoming pregnant. Many of them are prostitutes to support their drug habits, and they need to be protected from further pregnancies.
"Also, our schools can't handle these children. They need services we cannot afford. Our taxes are already too high without more special needs children flooding the system."
Citizens Against the Law
Select one or two spokespersons. You may create an additional role if you wish. Work together to prepare a two-minute argument that best expresses the views of D. Hendricks and any additional arguments you can think of to support why this law should be passed.
D. Hendricks, Civil Rights Advocate:
"The problem here is child abuse, not childbearing. Making it impossible for drug-addicted women to have more children is like forbidding a convicted wife beater from remarrying. Requiring women to use any type of contraceptive device or to be sterilized is a violation of a woman's constitutional right of privacy. Women have the right to make their own choices about reproduction, even if we don't happen to agree with them. If drug-addicted women are the targets of laws like this today, who will be next? Teenagers? Women on welfare? Where will it stop? These women need treatment, not forced birth control or sterilization. More understanding for the circumstances that led these women to use drugs and more money for drug treatment centers for them is the answer to this critical problem, not 'birth control by law.' This is the United States, not Hitler's Germany!"
Citizens Against the Law
Select one or two spokespersons. You may create an additional role if you wish. Work together to prepare a two-minute argument that best expresses the views of T. Rickson, and any additional arguments you can think of to support why this law should be passed.
T. Rickson, Women's Rights Advocate:
"In our society we no longer amputate the hands of thieves or castrate rapists. Forced birth control or sterilization would be like going back to the times when we sterilized criminals and mentally impaired people. The long-term birth control devices have side effects, and are not appropriate for all women. For a judge to order birth control or sterilization is a violation of the woman's right to choose her own form of birth control, or to have children if she chooses."
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