Volume 25

“Bad Moms” and Powerful Prosecutors: Why a Public Health Approach to Maternal Drug Use is Necessary to Lessen the Hardship Borne by Women in the South

by Mina Dixon Davis

This Note argues that a public health approach to maternal drug use would help to reduce the particularly harsh penalties meted against mothers in the South by shifting discretion from local prosecutors and lawmakers to medical professionals better equipped to address the long-term wellbeing of mothers and their children. Part II of this Note will provide a brief overview of the nation’s current battle with opioid addiction and how the country has struggled to treat the problem of maternal drug use in past decades. Part III will proceed by discussing the legal responses to maternal drug use and showing the trend toward punitive responses, especially in the South. Part IV will examine these legal responses and their consequences with an eye toward exploring whether such strident approaches in the South are a cultural reproach against women who defy stereotypes about how a mother should nurture and care. Finally, having concluded that punitive legal approaches disproportionately harm low-income women and women of color in the South and ultimately hurt the very children the approaches purport to protect, Part V of this Note will explore emerging best practices that tackle the underlying causes of drug use through public health models that offer mothers social, behavioral, and environmental support.

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