Tracknum: 20863.001201bf81a3.239ce380.94d0c026 Pubdate: Mon, 28 Feb 2000 Source: Associated Press Copyright: 2000 Associated Press Author: Richard Carelli, Associated Press Writer DRUG TESTS ON PREGNANT WOMEN STUDIED WASHINGTON (AP) - The Supreme Court today agreed to decide whether public hospitals can test pregnant patients for drug use and tell police who tested positive. The justices said they will review a challenge to a South Carolina hospital's policy aimed at detecting pregnant women who use crack cocaine. The policy's opponents say it violates women's Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches. The hospital discontinued its policy after a 1993 lawsuit was filed, but the court's decision, expected sometime in 2001, could determine whether it ever gets reinstated and whether other hospitals consider adopting similar policies. The dispute stems from South Carolina's efforts to prosecute women who use crack cocaine while pregnant under the state's child-endangerment law. The state law makes it a crime to ``refuse or neglect to provide the proper care and attention'' so that a child ``is endangered or is likely to be endangered.'' The state's Supreme Court has ruled that a viable fetus - one able to live outside the uterus - is a child under the law and has upheld its use against pregnant women. South Carolina prosecutors have done so dozens of times since 1989. The nation's highest court refused in 1998 to review such prosecutions. But no other state's top court has allowed them. The highest courts in Florida, Kentucky, Nevada and Ohio explicitly have disallowed them. At the Medical University of South Carolina, a public hospital in Charleston, officials decided in 1989 to help such prosecutions. If a woman's urine test indicated cocaine use, she was arrested for distributing the drug to a minor. In early 1990, the policy was changed to give drug-using patients a choice between being arrested and enrolling for treatment. Ten women sued the hospital and others in 1993, contending among other things that the urine testing, performed without court warrants, amounted to unreasonable searches that violated their privacy. After a six-week trial, a federal jury ruled against the women. The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld that verdict last July. ``In light of the documented health hazards of maternal cocaine use and the resulting drain on public resources, (hospital) officials unquestionably possessed a substantial interest in taking steps to reduce cocaine use by pregnant women,'' the appeals court ruled. It also said the policy effectively advanced that interest and that the urine tests ``were minimally intrusive.'' For those reasons, the appeals court concluded that the searches were reasonable under a ``special needs'' exception to the Fourth Amendment's general requirement that a search be authorized by court warrant or be based on ``probable cause'' to suspect a crime. In the appeal acted on today, lawyers for the 10 women called the appeals court ruling a ``radical extension of the special needs doctrine.'' The appeals court ruling, they said, ``would permit law enforcement and other governmental officers to engage in searches as a means of gaining evidence for arrests and prosecutions without a warrant or individualized suspicion, so long as the government can present a health or safety reason for its actions.'' The case is Ferguson vs. City of Charleston, 99-936.