On March 21, 2016, Indiana Governor Mike Pence signed Senate Bill 186 into law. The bill prohibits physicians and certain other individuals involved in pre-natal care from informing law enforcement of the results of a drug screening done of a pregnant woman. This new bill was drafted in response to an epidemic of heroin and painkiller abuse in the state. The rise in drug abuse has led to a rise in complications at birth because of drug use during pregnancy. Drug addiction in pregnant women poses heightened risks of premature birth, low birth weight and death to newborns. Babies can be born drug-dependent and have to spend long periods of time in neonatal intensive care units.
Health care professionals want to offer drug screenings to pregnant mothers in order to encourage those struggling with addiction to seek treatment. Under Indiana law, though, a doctor or caregiver involved in pre-natal care is a mandatory reporter and must contact authorities if he or she believes a child is being abused. While Indiana law does not specifically address the issue whether exposure to drug use while in the womb requires reporting, some states have criminalized drug use by expectant mothers. For example, Tennessee requires drug screenings of expectant mothers and allows prosecutors to charge a mother with aggravated assault (with a penalty of up to 15 years in prison) if she is caught using illicit drugs during her pregnancy.
Many health care professionals believe that a punitive approach scares drug-dependent women away from getting the treatment they need. The new Indiana statute endorses a less punitive approach and creates a limited “shield” for expectant mothers. The new statute applies to (i) a verbal screenings or questioning concerning drug or alcohol use, (ii) urine tests, and (iii) a blood tests provided to pregnant women. Without the patient's consent or a court order, health care professionals cannot release the results of such screenings to law enforcement agencies.
One of the law’s proponents, Rep. Ed Clere (R-New Albany), has described a “tsunami of addiction” in Indiana. While the new law will not solve the addiction problem by itself, it will at least clarify that fear of punishment should not be a barrier to getting help.