Montana Judge Drops Child Endangerment Charges Against Pregnant Woman

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Montana Judge Drops Child Endangerment Charges Against Pregnant Woman

Nina Liss-Schultz

A judge has dropped charges brought against a pregnant Montana woman who was arrested after failing a drug test in late August.

A judge has dropped charges brought against a pregnant Montana woman who was arrested after failing a drug test in late August.

Casey Gloria Allen was 12 weeks when she tested positive for drug use. She was arrested and charged with criminal child endangerment, a felony in Montana.

Her bail was set at $100,000, in part because there were several separate charges brought against her in the months prior to the drug test.

Allen’s attorney, in arguing for her charges to be dropped, warned that the state was going down a “slippery slope of arresting and filing charges against early-term pregnant women for engaging in any behavior deemed unhealthy to the fetus, which might include ingesting drugs (legally prescribed or not), drinking alcohol, smoking, failing to wear seat belts in a vehicle, not eating well, and exercising too little or too much.”

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Allen’s arrest was seen by many as a test of the so-called fetal harm laws on the books in Montana.

One law, passed in 2013, makes it a criminal offense to kill a woman or her unborn fetus with knowledge that the woman is pregnant. Written to add additional penalties for harming a woman who is pregnant, the law essentially makes fetuses separate and distinct victims.

Fetal homicide laws like the one in Montana are in place in at least 38 states. The laws typically have an explicit exception for abortion. However, they often don’t include an exclusion for the pregnant woman as the accused, and as a result are used as a justification to criminalize pregnant women who engage in behavior deemed risky to them or their fetus.

“The reality for some of these women is the need for drugs is stronger than any maternal instinct they have,” a Ravalli County deputy attorney said around the time of Allen’s arrest.

The other, a child endangerment law also passed in 2013, makes it a criminal offense to cause “substantial risk of death or serious bodily injury” to a child under the age of 14.

A Tennessee woman was arrested in July under the state’s new so-called Pregnancy Criminalization Law after her newborn tested positive for drugs.