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Leading Health And Child Advocacy Groups Ask Court To Dismiss Charges Against Stacey Gilligan

The American Public Health Association, National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence and the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform today asked the Glens Falls City Court to dismiss the prosecution of Stacey Gilligan because it violates New York law as well as the well-established consensus in the medical community that such prosecutions are irrational, ineffective, and counterproductive. Gilligan is being charged on two counts of child endangerment based on allegations that she consumed alcohol while pregnant.

The New York Civil Liberties Union and counsel from the National Advocates for Pregnant Women are representing the APHA, NCADD and NCCPR as proposed amici curiae (friends of the court). In a motion (written request) to the court, these organizations explained that the problems posed by alcohol and drugs are serious public health issues but condemn the arrest and prosecution of pregnant women because alcohol dependency is a disease not a crime, because such prosecutions are likely to deter pregnant women from seeking prenatal care and treatment for drug and alcohol addiction that is beneficial to them and their children, and because such punitive approaches have no proven benefits for the health of children. The motion and proposed amicus brief were filed in support of a motion to dismiss the charges filed by Ms. Gilligan’s legal counsel Robert Kelly.

Rebekah Diller, Director of New York Civil Liberties Union’s Reproductive Rights Project who is representing these organizations, said “This case should never have been filed in the first place. There is overwhelming medical opposition to this kind of arrest and clear New York state law and precedent against it.” Diller added that “New York has clearly chosen to address the issues of pregnancy and alcohol use as a public health problem, not a crime, and the media generated around the case is likely to deter health care, not the disease of addition.”

“Every time a grandstanding prosecutor tries to score political points by taking a swing at so-called ‘bad mothers’ the blow lands squarely on children,” said Richard Wexler, Executive Director of the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform, a non-profit child advocacy organization. “In Utah, after similar prosecutions, requests for help with prenatal care from pregnant women with substance-abuse problems women plummeted. The only thing this kind of prosecution deters is prenatal care.”

“The fact that leading national health organizations have taken an interest in this case demonstrates how out of step this prosecution is with the public health interests of women and children,” said Lynn Paltrow, Executive Director of the National Advocates for Pregnant Women.

On September 27, 2003 Stacey L. Gilligan, age 22, gave birth to a baby boy who allegedly tested positive for alcohol. Several days later Ms. Gilligan was arrested by Glens Falls police and she was charged with two counts of child endangerment. These counts allege that she “knowingly fed her blood” (via the umbilical cord) containing alcohol to her baby in the process of giving birth.

Today’s case is People v. Gilligan, Docket No. 2003-1192. The motion to file an amicus brief was filed in the Glens Falls City Court in Glens Falls, New York.

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