Should pregnant drug abuser be prosecuted for endangering the life of unborn child?

Photo by Ian Waldie/Getty Images

HAMILTON, Montana -- A criminal endangerment charge against a woman sitting behind bars in the Ravalli County jail is stirring debate.

Here's the question: Should someone who is pregnant, and abusing drugs, be prosecuted for criminally endangering the life of her unborn baby?

The story starts at the Ravalli County Adult Detention Center where a pregnant 21-year-old Casey Allen is awaiting for trial. Her bail is set at $100,000.

"The best way to help a drug addicted woman have a healthy pregnancy is not criminalizing her," said Planned Parenthood Comm. Coordinator Melissa Bancroft.

Planned Parenthood, along with the ACLU and the Montana Reproductive Rights Coalition, argue Allen's the bail is too high and that a new charge - criminal endangerment of an unborn baby is an overreach.

The group says Allen asked to move her court date after getting accepted into a drug treatment program. But Deputy County County Attorney Thorin Geist argued against it and the judge agreed.

"We condemn that, it's a horrible infringement on her rights to prevent her from getting the care that she needs," said Bancroft.

Six days after the request was denied, Allen failed a drug test, leading to new charges including criminal endangerment of an unborn child from drug use.

Ravalli County Attorney Bill Fulbright says the decision to file the criminal endangerment charge against Casey Allen doesn't have to do with preventing her from getting healthcare for her pregnancy but her past actions.

"This individual has been on drug charges in this county since September of 2013, this is the fourth felony case with which she's been charged," said Fulbright.

"That's a really dangerous precedent of criminalizing pregnant women for drug addiction, obviously things are against the law and they should be prosecuted under that, but this is setting a separate standard for pregnant women," said Bancroft.

The charge of criminal endangerment of an unborn child is rare, but in this case Fulbright says it fit the crime.

"After explaining to the court at the prior hearing that she knew she was pregnant I believe it was 12 weeks is what she told the court she was pregnant and then consuming illegal drugs, thereby endangering the fetus just like we charge the crime of criminal endangerment in a number of circumstances," said Fulbright.

Allen now faces four new felony charges.

Fulbright added that the Ravalli County jail provides quality healthcare for all its inmates, including pregnant women.