ACLU-NJ and National ACLU File Brief in Support of Woman’s Right to Make Medical Decisions During Pregnancy

January 6, 2014

State punished pregnant woman's choice of treatment made in consultation with health care provider

NEWARK – The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey and the American Civil Liberties Union - Reproductive Freedom Project filed a friend-of-the-court brief to the New Jersey Supreme Court on Jan. 3, supporting the rights of a woman who took prescribed medication during her pregnancy that helped treat her addiction to Percocet.

“The government should not get involved in second-guessing the decision-making of pregnant women and their health care providers, especially when those decisions are made with the intent of reducing the risks of harm both to the woman and to the fetus,” said ACLU-NJ Legal Director Ed Barocas.

After Y.N. found out she was pregnant, she sought treatment for her Percocet addition. Her health care providers prescribed methadone, as the risk of harm from an immediate withdrawal would likely be greater than the risks of the methadone side effects. The child was born healthy and was successfully treated upon birth for methadone withdrawal symptoms.

Despite finding that Y.N. was not a risk to her child, and sending the baby home with her, a judge nevertheless held that Y.N. was guilty of child abuse and neglect. The appellate court affirmed, holding that any “harm” to a child, even if it results from a legal chosen course of action supervised by a physician, should result in a finding that a pregnant woman has abused or neglected her child.

On Oct. 18, 2013, the New Jersey Supreme Court agreed to review the appellate court's decision.

“New Jersey's constitution and laws prohibit a blanket rule that any injury to a child due to a chosen course of treatment by a pregnant woman in and of itself justifies an abuse finding; rather individual fact finding is required before the State can intrude on a woman's individual and familial rights,” said Ronald Chen of the Rutgers Constitutional Rights Clinic.

“If, as a society, we are truly interested in supporting healthy moms and babies, we would not be undermining basic constitutional principles in order to penalize the pregnant women and mothers who need health care the most. Our efforts should be focused on ensuring that pregnant women get the treatment and support they need,” noted Alexa Kolbi-Molinas of the ACLU-Reproductive Freedom Project.

The case is captioned New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services v. Y.N.

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