Alabama is not the place to be using drugs while pregnant. There is a law on the books that makes it a crime to expose children to controlled substances called, chemical endangerment of a child. The latest woman to feel the wrath of this law is Tosha Jean Ward, who was recently indicted on this charge after her daughter was born addicted to cocaine.
The announcement was made in October during a session of the Lauderdale County grand jury, but this information was just released. The baby girl was born on April 7 at Eliza Coffee Memorial Hospital in Florence, AL. Ward was arrested on April 13 after the child tested positive for cocaine. She had tested positive for cocaine and opiates at the time the birth. The indictment charged that Ward “recklessly and intentionally caused the child to be exposed with a controlled substance.” Ward is now out of jail on $5,000 bail and is due back in court on December 16.
Alabama’s chemical endangerment law was passed in 2006. At the time, the state was experiencing an increase in methamphetamine production and use. The law was created to protect children from meth labs. It partially reads:
(a) A responsible person commits the crime of chemical endangerment of exposing a child to an environment in which he or she does any of the following:
(1) Knowingly, recklessly, or intentionally causes or permits a child to be exposed to, to ingest or inhale, or to have contact with a controlled substance, chemical substance, or drug paraphernalia as defined in Section 13A-12-260. A violation under this subdivision is a Class C felony.
(2) Violates subdivision (1) and a child suffers serious physical injury by exposure to, ingestion of, inhalation of, or contact with a controlled substance, chemical substance, or drug paraphernalia. A violation under this subdivision is a Class B felony.
(3) Violates subdivision (1) and the exposure, ingestion, inhalation, or contact results in the death of the child. A violation under this subdivision is a Class A felony.
(b) The court shall impose punishment pursuant to this section rather than imposing punishment authorized under any other provision of law, unless another provision of law provides for a greater penalty or a longer term of imprisonment.
(c) It is an affirmative defense to a violation of this section that the controlled substance was provided by lawful prescription for the child, and that it was administered to the child in accordance with the prescription instructions provided with the controlled substance.
Though the wording had nothing to do with unborn children, prosecutors started charging women who used during pregnancies, considering the womb an “environment,” and a fetus as a child. Between 2006 and 2012, 60 women were prosecuted under the chemical endangerment law.
In 2008, the case of Amanda Kimbrough caught national attention. She was sentenced to 10 years in prison after her son, Timmy, died 19 minutes after birth. The baby was born after a pregnancy of only 25 weeks. Kimbrough tested positive for meth and was arrested after admitting to using once while pregnant. Motions were filed on her behalf by organizations that “argued that the court’s decisions were not supported or justified by scientific research, and that they were made without any understanding of the nature of drug addiction. Other critics argued that these court decisions detract from the rights and value of pregnant women.”
In 2014, the Alabama Supreme Court upheld the convictions of two women, thus substantiating the law.