Can you say 'Police State'?

Graeme Bacque (gbacque@arcos.org)
Sat, 23 May 1998 13:37:54 -0400


South Dakota to allow
involuntary commitment of pregnant mothers who drink 

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) -- South Dakota on July 1 becomes the first state
to allow judges to order pregnant women who drink into alcoholism
treatment. 


 Legislators passed three laws in March to try to cut the number of cases
of fetal alcohol syndrome, a lifelong condition that leaves its victims
mentally and physically disabled. 


 "They should throw those women in jail and make them get four or five
months of treatment. No question about it," says Dr. Lucy Reifel, who
adopted a baby suffering from the syndrome. 


 Reifel, a physician on the Rosebud Sioux Indian Reservation, took in
Casey White Hat after convincing his birth mother that he would be better
off living with sober parents. 


 Casey, now age 16, is the size of a scrawny 11-year-old. His
coordination is bad, his language skills poor. Frequently frustrated when
he can't find the right words to express himself, he'll break into
gestures and sign language. 


 "With Casey, the condition is variable," Reifel says. "But others can be
profoundly retarded -- so retarded that they function at infant levels." 


 Fetal alcohol syndrome afflicts one child out of every 500 in the United
States. But in some parts of South Dakota, it affects as many as 20 in
500 children, Gov. Bill Janklow said in a speech to the Legislature in
January. It is particularly acute on the state's nine Indian
reservations. 


 The state already distributes information about fetal alcohol syndrome
to high schools and medical workers, and federal money helps support
prenatal programs around the state. But lawmakers felt more was needed. 


 The statutes passed in March made South Dakota the first state to enact
laws specifically designed to force pregnant women with alcohol or drug
problems into treatment, according to the National Conference of State
Legislatures. 


 One allows relatives or friends to commit pregnant women to emergency
detox centers for up to two days. Another permits judges to confine them
to treatment centers for as long as nine months. 


 The third makes drinking while pregnant a form of child abuse. Other
states have used that tactic to help social workers intervene when
pregnant women are abusing drugs or alcohol. 


 The procedure for forcing a pregnant woman into treatment is the same as
for other addicts. A relative files a petition with a circuit judge, who
must receive a written report from a lawyer within five days. 


 The woman is granted a hearing, after which the judge decides whether to
send her to treatment and for how long. The process can take several
weeks. 


 "There's no guarantee this will help that particular child, but we hope
it will help the second, third and fourth babies in a family if the
mother stops drinking," says state Sen. Barb Everist, who co-sponsored
the legislation. 


 Everist says she pushed for the new laws because fetal alcohol syndrome
is "totally preventable." Only women who abuse alcohol, not the
occasional drinker, would be forced into treatment, she says. 


 "A lot of women still don't understand that even small amounts of
alcohol can have an effect," she says. "The key is making sure we educate
those women." 


 The U.S. surgeon general first alerted the public 17 years ago about the
dangers of drinking while pregnant, but health officials are alarmed by
surveys suggesting many women are not heeding the warnings. 


 In 1995, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 3.5
percent of 1,313 pregnant women said they had seven or more alcoholic
drinks per week or five or more drinks in one sitting. That was up from
0.8 percent of 1,053 pregnant women surveyed in 1991. 


 In South Dakota, state health officials say 4.7 percent of women
surveyed in 1992-96 said they drank during pregnancy. 


 Alcoholism has been a problem for generations in the towns spread across
the South Dakota prairie, where numbing isolation and a lack of good jobs
are often blamed. 


 State Sen. Paul Valandra, a Democrat who represents the Rosebud
reservation, says he supports the Legislature's efforts to curb fetal
alcohol syndrome but suggests more needs to be done. "There are greater
issues of education and economic development at work here," he says. 


 State laws don't pertain to Indian reservations, but American Indian
women who move off reservations or seek medical care elsewhere would be
subject to the new laws. 


 Critics argue the measures will violate individual rights and do little
for a fetus already damaged by weeks of drinking. 


 Ann Wilson, a University of South Dakota professor who studies early
child development, says the new laws could alienate women from friends
and relatives who could help them. 


 The causes of fetal alcohol syndrome are unclear, Wilson adds.
Alcoholics, especially those living in poverty, often have other health
problems that could affect a fetus, she says. 


 State Rep. Scott Eccarius, an eye surgeon who co-sponsored the
legislation, says lawmakers ultimately passed the laws because fetal
alcohol syndrome "has become an epidemic." 


 "There was a fair amount of concern that this would be too hard on
women," he says. "But in the end, it turned out to be popular. Frankly,
people realize it's not too much to ask that women behave responsibly
when they are pregnant." 

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APA - No Way!! Toronto, June 3, 1998
<http://web.arcos.org/gbacque/antiAPA.htm>
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