Montana Public Radio

Bill Aims To Protect Pregnant Women Seeking Addiction Treatment

Mar 19, 2019

In 2017, the state Department of Public Health and Human Services reported that approximately 100 babies every year experience drug withdrawal in Montana.

Now, in an effort to lower that number, lawmakers are considering a bill to help pregnant women with addictions.

Sen. Diane Sands, a Democrat from Missoula, is carrying Senate Bill 289 , which would provide a safe harbor from prosecution for pregnant women who seek addiction treatment.

“If by coming in for healthcare you are admitting to a felony, that’s a real disincentive for people to get healthcare," Sands said.

The bill passed the Senate 50-0 and has moved to the House. It builds on another from Rep. Kimberly Dudik, D-Missoula.

Dudik’s House Bill 309 would have created the same safe harbor as SB 289, but also would have created a grant program through the Department of Public Health and Human Services to help local health providers create a drug treatment program for pregnant women. That bill was tabled in committee and likely won’t move forward.

Sands says the Montana Healthcare Foundation already has a similar grant program to assist hospitals in implementing best practices for addicted moms and babies in neonatal units.

Benefis Health System in Great Falls received one of these $150,000 grants from the foundation. A representative for Benefis, Jessie Luther, supported the bill at its hearing in the House Human Services Committee Monday.

“Mother and baby do statistically better if they’re able to receive safe harbor and start receiving treatment early," Luther said.

The Montana Medical Association, the Montana Primary Care Association, the Association of Montana Public Health Officials and Billings Clinic support the measure. No one spoke in opposition.

Shaylee Ragar is a reporter with the UM Legislative News Service, a partnership of the University of Montana School of Journalism, the Montana Broadcasters Association, the Montana Newspaper Association and the Greater Montana Foundation.