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Bill targeting pregnant drug users once more fails 

Joint Judiciary Committee members listen to testimony from Dr. Louisa Mook, a Pediatrician at Sagewest Healthcare in Riverton.
Wyoming Legislature
Joint Judiciary Committee members listen to testimony from Dr. Louisa Mook, a Pediatrician at Sagewest Healthcare in Riverton.

A bill that would have criminalized the use of methamphetamine or a controlled substance during pregnancy failed to move forward.

The Joint Judiciary Committee heard testimony Sept. 12 on a bill that would punish a person for using a controlled substance while pregnant with up to five years in prison and/or a fine of $5,000 or less.

Dr Louisa Mook, a Pediatrician at Sagewest Healthcare in Riverton, testified and answered questions from the committee for over 30 minutes. She said barriers to healthcare usually make outcomes worse.

“I just worry that anything that makes a woman afraid to get prenatal care is not going to have the intended consequence of keeping the baby safe,” said Mook. “I think we will have more deliveries where women haven’t gotten prenatal care.”

Mook said prenatal care is important for pregnancies everywhere, but especially in Wyoming since there is no pediatric subspecialties care. Every baby that needs special, advanced care needs to be transferred to a regional hospital out of the state.

“Clearly, we want to avoid having pregnant women who have had no prenatal care show up in labor,” she said. “These are very high risk deliveries. We do not know if that baby is premature or if it will be able to breathe on its own or if it has a medical issue like a heart, stomach or spine defect.”

Mook went further to say criminalizing these pregnant women will not stop them from using drugs, but it will stop them from going to the doctor because they will be afraid of going to jail or being fined.

“We need our clinics and hospitals to be safe places for these women so that their babies have their best chance at a healthy start. Any legislation that deters women from getting prenatal care will hurt babies the most,” she said.

Others testified that there needs to be more awareness of treatment opportunities that are already available.

Additionally, the committee was presented with an update on the development of a plan of safe care (POSC) for infants with prenatal substance exposure by the Department of Family Services (DFS). The DFS is required by a federal act to develop a POSC for these infants to ensure their safety and well-being following their release from medical care.

The DFS said they have developed a POSC template, universal guidance document and training curriculum. It has been implemented in five counties already. Plus, DFS is working with agency caseworkers to pilot POSC as a primary prevention strategy in the state.

Before voting on whether to move forward with the bill, Teton County Representative Mike Yin said he thinks the committee should focus on POSC and how it works in the state.

The bill did not get the majority of senate members on the committee, meaning it died. Similar bills have been brought up by the legislature in the past but none have passed.

Kamila has worked for public radio stations in California, New York, France and Poland. Originally from New York City, she loves exploring new places. Kamila received her master in journalism from Columbia University. In her spare time, she enjoys exploring the surrounding areas with her two pups and husband.
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