Seven cops swarmed the home of an Alabama mom charged with the dastardly crime of taking a painkiller prescribed by her doctor while she was pregnant with her son—who, by the way, is perfectly fine and now 8 months old.
In 2020, stay-at-home-mom Kim Blalock of Florence, Alabama, was pregnant with her sixth child. A year earlier, she'd had surgery for back problems resulting from a car accident. She also suffered from arthritis and a degenerative disc disease, and was prescribed hydrocodone to ease her chronic pain. Though she had stopped taking the drug when she learned she was expecting, the pain got worse as the pregnancy wore on—and she had five other kids to take care of. Six weeks before her son was due, she was in such agony that she went back to her orthopedist and he renewed her prescription.
When her baby was born and tested for drugs, which seems to be routine, the results came back positive. The Department of Human Resources (DHR), the state's child services division, investigated and quickly closed the case, according to AL.com. But the cops and the district attorney? They smelled blood.
Prosecutors couldn't charge Blalock with taking illegal drugs, because she had a prescription. They couldn't charge her with abusing the drugs, either. (Not for lack of trying, though: DHR had actually counted how many pills she had taken.) Nor could the authorities charge her with getting the legal drugs by illegal means, such as doctor shopping, or forgery. What they could and did charge her with was not informing her doctor that she was pregnant. They labeled this prescription fraud: a felony.
This represents "the literal policing of pregnancy," says Ellie Lee, Director of the Centre for Parenting Studies at the University of Kent in England, one of the rare schools with a department focused on parenting policy.
Wisely, the Alabama state legislature had already passed a 2016 law to make sure moms taking drugs prescribed by doctors could not be prosecuted. But Blalock wasn't protected by that law, ostensibly because she might not have received the prescription had she informed the doctor of her pregnancy.
Blalock visited the doctor in person, but was in her car, due to COVID-19 restrictions. Authorities asserted that her obstetrician would have weaned her off the opioid, but Blalock countered that she did indeed tell her ob-gyn.
In either case, hydrocodone just isn't very dangerous. While babies exposed to the opioid in utero may have some withdrawal symptoms once born—including "irritability, excess crying, poor feeding, and tremors," according to AL.com—those symptoms "are not life-threatening."
Obviously, no one wants a baby to suffer. But no one should want a mother to suffer, either. And when a pregnant woman is in debilitating pain, there is no solution that promises perfection all around.
Rather than recognizing that fact, police officers waited until two months after the baby was born and then "swarmed Blalock's house while she and her husband were out of town." Her two teenagers were at home and said at least seven armed officers entered, asking questions about her whereabouts. The teenagers were so rattled that they went to stay with their grandparents.
A public information officer with the Florence Police Department declined to answer questions about the raid because the investigation remains open.
Emma Roth, a lawyer with the National Advocates for Pregnant Women, is representing Blalock along with other attorneys. Roth has asked that the charges be dropped. Hanging in the balance is not just Blalock's fate but the fate of any woman who goes to the doctor and does not inform them that she's expecting.
This reminds me of the CDC recommending that women who are pregnant or even could be pregnant avoid all alcohol. That means basically no drinks from middle school to menopause. The federal government's impulse was the same as the Florence police department's: focusing so intensely on the fetus that the woman is barely an afterthought.
"This is another leap forward in the long march toward erasing pregnant women as people," says Joan Wolfe, an associate professor of women's and gender studies at Texas A&M University, and author of Is Breast Best?
"If I had known what I know now, I would rather lay in bed my entire pregnancy in pain than take a pill," Blalock said. "I didn't think it was a big deal. My son is perfectly fine."
The fact that this prescription drug is not known to cause any lasting damage to a child means there is no reason to prohibit a mom in pain from taking it and feeling better.