Using Drugs While Pregnant Would Earn Stiff Penalties Under Proposed Wyoming Bill

By Paul Gaita 02/01/17
The highly punitive bill would ramp up fines and prison terms for pregnant drug users and their dealers.
Pregnant woman holding pills.

Wyoming lawmakers have introduced a bill that would bring a charge of drug-induced infant abuse or homicide against any woman who intentionally uses specific narcotic drugs while pregnant.

Additionally, any individual who delivers these drugs to a woman they know to be pregnant could face a prison term and a possible fine if the child tests positive for drugs at birth, or if the pregnancy is terminated as a result of the drug. 

The bill, HB 215, outlines new definitions of drug-induced infant homicide and abuse, and details the specific legal outcomes for convictions on either charge.

In regard to the former charge, a person would be considered guilty if they "know or reasonably should know [themselves to be] pregnant;" intentionally uses methamphetamine or a Schedule I or II drug; and then gives birth to a viable infant during or after drug use who dies, or the drug contributes to their death.

The Wyoming Controlled Substances Act lists a vast number of opiates, opium derivates (including heroin), hallucinogenic drugs like LSD and peyote, and marijuana as Schedule I drugs—while oxycodone, morphine, cocaine, fentanyl, carfentanil, methamphetamine and numerous depressants are included among Schedule II drugs.

If HB 215 becomes law, drug-induced infant homicide would be a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison. The bill also amends the current definition of drug-induced infant abuse as "engaging in a course of conduct that results in a child testing positive at live birth for methamphetamine or a controlled substance which is a narcotic drug listed in Schedule I or II of the Wyoming Controlled Substances Act." That charge would carry a penalty of up to five years in prison.

Individuals convicted of delivering a Schedule I or II drug to a person they know is pregnant could earn a prison term of 10 to 25 years and a possible fine—while those convicted of delivering said drugs that results in the termination of a pregnancy face a sentence of 20 to 50 years and a $50,000 fine, regardless of whether the embryo or fetus survives.

Both situations carry some degree of defense for individuals facing charges: a woman who seeks and completes treatment for substance abuse could receive less harsh legal penalties.

Similarly, charges against those who delivered drugs to a pregnant person could be mitigated depending on the term of pregnancy at the time of delivery; if the woman is less than 16 weeks into pregnancy, it would be presumed that the person delivering the drugs was not aware that she was pregnant. But after 22 weeks, the bill says it would be reasonable to presume that the person knew that they were providing drugs to a pregnant woman. 

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.