The Texas Law Banning Pregnant Women From Taking Drugs Doesn't Actually Exist

If you've got a cinema-style version of Texas in your head that involves horses, cactus and a lot of dirt, it probably originated from West Texas (as an eighth-generation native, I'm allowed to say it). It's the land of lawlessness, the land where you make your own rules. But West Texas' modern-day cowboys are now manifesting in the form of anti-abortion vigilantes, and their latest crusade has included arresting and charging women for taking drugs while pregnant. It might make for a splashy headline, but no such law exists.

RH Reality Check's Andrea Grimes wrote an extensive report on five cases from recent years in which West Texas women were charged with using illicit drugs while pregnant. As Grimes notes, glazing over the story with a soundbite on the evening news gives some people satisfaction that we've successfully locked up another bad mom. But in the rarely reported aftermath, the charges against the women are often dropped. And why? Because though Texas' law is broad, there are shields in place that bar these women from prosecution for child abuse or endangerment.

The specific exception says that pregnant women cannot be charged for injury to their fetus, nor can doctors who are performing legal abortions. Not only is it on the books, but the law has been upheld. Grimes points out that in 2006, The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals overturned a guilty verdict for two women charged with this kind of crime.

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Essentially, the arrests cause a media circus in which the women are raked across the coals, and prosecutors hope that overworked defense attorneys won't realize that their clients have been wrongfully charged. Grimes reports that outside organizations have started to watch for these cases and have managed to successfully intervene in many of them, all while prosecutors unapologetically keep trying the same tactic and bullying women into other charges that, often times, keep them incarcerated.

In Texas, a drunk driver who kills a pregnant mother can be charged as if the fetus was already born. But in cases where even staunch conservatives such as Gov. Rick Perry and Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott are saying that exceptions should be in place, that's probably done with good reason. So it's unclear why West Texas law enforcement feels that its their duty to enforce rules that they absolutely know will not hold in the court of law, other than its more of the same personhood crusade that we've seen popping up across the country. Yeehaw.

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