HARDIN - The Big Horn County Attorney in Hardin announced Thursday plans to crack down on women who use drugs or alcohol while pregnant.
Big Horn County Attorney Jay Harris said this new approach is an effort to protect “innocent, unborn children victimized” by their mother’s substance abuse.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control reported Montana has one of the highest rates of alcohol use among pregnant women in the region, but it does not break the rate down further by county.
The action is an extension of a zero tolerance policy for methamphetamine implemented by Harris in 2015.
Harris outlined the plan in a press release and encouraged other jurisdictions, like the Northern Cheyenne Tribal Court and Crow Tribal Court, to adopt a similar policy.
Big Horn County prosecutors will now “seek an order of protection restraining a pregnant female from any non-medically prescribed use of drugs or alcohol,” according to the press release.
If the expectant mother is found to be in violation of the order, prosecutors will “further prosecute on a contempt basis” and file an order seeking incarceration.
According to Harris, the policy follows a legal concept called “Natural Law,” which states that “all human beings are afforded inherent legal rights by virtue of their humanity.”
Harris said an unborn child’s right to seek health and happiness is greatly impeded by his or her mother’s use of drugs and/or alcohol while pregnant.
During such hearings, the Big Horn County Attorney’s Office will present scientific evidence in court about the dangers of fetal alcohol syndrome and other conditions related to substance use while pregnant.
Harris said his office is asking the public to report any known instances of pregnant females using drugs or alcohol to the Big Horn County Sheriff’s Office.
Anyone who files a report must be willing to testify in court, according to the press release.
Caitlin Borgmann, the executive director of the ACLU of Montana, called the policy "disappointing."
"It's really unfortunate that the Big Horn County Attorney would take this criminalized approach to what should be a public health issue," said Borgmann. "Pregnant women need access to health care not jail time."
Borgmann said the ACLU is still crafting a response to the policy but plans some form of intervention.
“We’re seeing that individuals are set up to fail,” said Zuri Moreno, an advocacy/policy assistant for ACLU-Montana.