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CARE, NOT CRIMINALIZATION: OPEN LETTER OPPOSING LD 871

We the undersigned represent organizations with memberships and constituents in all corners of the state that strongly oppose LD 871:  An Act To Establish the Crime of Endangering the Welfare of a Child by Transferring Illegal Drugs through Breast Milk. At a time when no Maine community is untouched by tragic losses stemming from chaotic substance use, we recognize the overdue and urgent need to treat our current epidemic as a public health crisis, not a criminal justice problem.

After decades of punitive drug policies that have devastated primarily Black, Brown and poor communities, many Americans are belatedly coming to the realization that incarceration does not solve addiction. Chaotic substance use is an illness, and punitive measures are ineffective for addressing the significant harm that such a disease can cause. Illness requires treatment and community supports, and that is precisely what we recommend legislators seek to build and implement.

LD 871 targets some of the most vulnerable parents in our communities with felony-level criminal charges for exposing an infant to breast milk containing traces of a scheduled drug. This bill would mean more kids placed in our state’s already over-loaded child welfare system, more Mainers in prison cells, and higher rates of adverse childhood experiences for impacted families. While the intent of bill sponsors may be to ensure the well-being of infants and children, this measure moves us in the opposite direction. It is not based in medical evidence or practicality, and instead perpetuates dangerous stereotypes and misconceptions that were popularized during the crack cocaine crisis of the 1980s and 90s.

When parents receive the support and resources they need, children thrive. This is particularly important for mothers, who are often primary or sole caregivers, and disproportionately living in poverty. We must reckon with the ways compounded stigma for pregnant and nursing people who use substances creates barriers to accessing critical perinatal care and community resources. If we want healthier futures for Maine’s children, we must look to evidence-based interventions that work, not shaming rhetoric and ideas of the past.

We oppose in the strongest terms any bills that criminalize rather than offer pathways to treatment and recovery, which are currently too few and far between in our largely rural and working class state. We reject the sexist notion that pregnant people and those nursing should be held to harsher standards of judgment because of their reproductive capacities. We embrace the dignity of those who struggle with substance use while also striving to be the best possible parents for their children.

Therefore, we the undersigned call on members of the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee to vote Ought Not To Pass on LD 871, and join us in working toward comprehensive health care access, including to mental health and substance use treatment services, for all Mainers.

Signed,

Maine Family Planning

Mabel Wadsworth Center

Consumers for Affordable Health Center

Maine State Breastfeeding Coalition

Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence

Survivor Speak USA

Planned Parenthood of Northen New England

Grandmothers for Reproductive Rights

Maine People’s Alliance

Maine Women’s Lobby

Bangor Racial and Economic Justice Coalition

Health Equity Alliance

Portland Overdose Prevention Site

ACLU of Maine

Maine Access Points

Maine Equal Justice

Maine Coalition for Sensible Drug Policy