Pubdate: Wed, 15 Jan 2003
Source: State, The (SC)
Copyright: 2003 The State
Author: Bruce Smith / Associated Press


In 10-Year-Old Suit, Pregnant Women Say They Were Tested Without Consent

Charleston -- A decade-old lawsuit over giving police the results of 
hospital drug tests on pregnant women is expected to go to the nation's 
highest court a second time.

Last week, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., refused 
to reconsider its ruling that some of the plaintiffs did not know they were 
being tested for cocaine or consent to such tests at the Medical University 
of South Carolina.

The defendants will appeal that to the U.S. Supreme Court, said Bobby Hood, 
an attorney representing the state.

The Supreme Court has already ruled the tests violated Fourth Amendment 
protections against unreasonable search and seizure.

And if the high court refuses to hear or rejects the new appeal, the case 
would return to Charleston where a jury would weigh damages, said Susan 
Dunn, an attorney for the plaintiffs.

In 1993, 10 women sued MUSC and school officials, the city of Charleston 
and local law enforcement officials, saying the testing was an 
unconstitutional search. The testing policy, since dropped, was designed to 
keep mothers from harming their unborn babies with cocaine.

In 1997, a federal jury in Charleston rejected the women's claim and, two 
years later, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the drug tests, 
saying the law allows searches without a warrant when the government shows 
a special need.

The appeals judges said the policy was a valid effort to reduce crack 
cocaine use by pregnant women. Police arrested about 30 maternity patients 
and charged them under the state's child endangerment law while the policy 
was in effect.

But the U.S. Supreme Court later reversed the appeals court, ruling the 
testing violated the Constitution. The justices returned the case to the 
lower courts and, last October, the appeals court ruled that eight 
plaintiffs did not consent to the tests.

Dunn estimated the damage request in the case could be around $300,000.

The attorneys' fees, however, could be substantially more. Under federal 
law when the case was filed, defendants are liable for plaintiffs' 
attorneys' fees if a constitutional violation is found, she said.
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