Pubdate: Sat, 14 Oct 2000
Source: Newsday (NY)
Copyright: 2000, Newsday Inc.
Contact:  (516)843-2986
Bookmark: Ferguson v. City of Charleston


Deputizing Doctors As Cops To Id And Jail Pregnant Drug Users Trashes The 
Bill Of Rights.

Here are the bare bones of a case the Supreme Court heard last week: A 
decade ago, some pregnant women who went to a South Carolina public 
hospital for prenatal care were given urine tests and arrested if the 
results turned up positive for cocaine.

Doesn't that flagrantly violate the patients' Fourth Amendment protection 
against unreasonable searches of their "persons, houses, papers, and 
effects"? It certainly does in our book. But in the lawbooks, the Supreme 
Court has said no warrant or probable cause is necessary for a search that 
meets some special need apart from enforcing the criminal laws.

And in this case, lower courts bought the Charleston hospital's argument 
that it was protecting the health of fetuses, if need be, by jailing the 
women who were carrying them.

That argument breaks down on several counts, even though a third-trimester 
fetus is considered a person in South Carolina.

No other hospital in the state found it necessary to turn drug-positive 
patients over to the police. What's more, some of the Charleston women 
weren't arrested until after they had given birth-too late, as Justice Ruth 
Bader Ginsberg pointed out, to protect the fetuses.

In any event, medical needs are ill served by deputizing nurses and doctors 
as agents of law enforcement. If anything, the possibility of being 
arrested is likely to discourage prospective mothers from seeking prenatal 
care at all.

There's more than a hint of racial profiling in this case, although the 
courts so far have refused to acknowledge it. The hospital's patients are 
predominantly poor and African-American, and nine of the 10 Charleston 
plaintiffs are minorities. Fortunately, the hospital has seen the error of 
its ways to this extent: Pregnant women who test positive for drugs are now 
sent to social workers, rather than turned over to police officers. That's 
a better way to meet the needs of mothers and children without trashing the 
Bill of Rights.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Thunder