Indiana AG's Office Backpedals on Mandatory Drug Testing of Pregnant Hoosiers

[Content Note: Hostility to agency; coercion. NB: Not only women get pregnant.]

Earlier this month, Shaker Harmony wrote a guest post about Indiana's Attorney General Greg Zoeller's proposal to drug test every pregnant person in the state. Subsequently, MoveOn and RH Reality Check launched a petition asking Zoeller to: "Apologize for calling on the Indiana state legislature to enact mandatory drug testing of expectant mothers and stop inciting disrespect for civil liberties during pregnancy."

The AG has started backpedaling, and has taken to trying to discredit the people who raised the flags on this reprehensible proposal. Bryan Corbin, Public Information Officer for the Office of the Indiana Attorney General, sent the following email to MoveOn and RH Reality Check, which was passed on to me and which I am sharing with permission:
Greetings. I am with the Indiana Attorney General's Office. Please be advised that the Petition Statement and Petition Background that you have posted on are highly inaccurate and misleading. Your petition cites as it sole source a blog posting that is inaccurate, as it was based on an incorrect broadcast on an Indiana radio station that has since been corrected elsewhere.

Please allow us to set the record straight. As co-chair of the state's Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention Task Force, Attorney General Greg Zoeller spoke on Sept. 9 to the Indiana Commission on Mental Health and Addiction about Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS).

The attorney general's comments should not be interpreted to imply that he supports mandatory opioid testing of any kind for pregnant women – he does not. The attorney general has not called upon the Legislature to do anything, contrary to your statement. The task force is currently working on viable solutions to address the spike in NAS cases in Indiana and plans to put forth a series of recommendations in the next few months for the Indiana Legislature to consider, but mandatory testing has not been part of any recommendation.

When Attorney General Zoeller addressed possible ways to combat the problem of NAS, he highlighted that physicians, who are responsible for the health of mother and child, should provide appropriate medical care for all pregnant women, including those with opioid dependency and/or addiction.

It is regrettable that an inaccurate story in one radio broadcast circulated by one blogger has led to an incorrect assumption in your online petition. Unfortunately, persons reading the online petition are currently being misled by the Petition Statement and Petition Background which both contain inaccuracies and non-sequiturs. We respectfully request that you correct the inaccurate statement and background. We are happy to receive the comments of constituents via social media and we encourage the public to visit the Indiana web site, which explains in detail the dangers of prescription drug addiction in Indiana. Constituents can also email inquiries to if they have questions.

Thank you for your time and attention in this matter. Kind regards,

Bryan Corbin
Public Information Officer
Office of the Indiana Attorney General
Whoooooooooooops. As Harmony noted via email, which I am also sharing with permission: "I just rechecked the original story that we linked to in that post, Melissa. There are no corrections. When he was on TV last week, he plainly talked about how there was nothing unconstitutional in what he was proposing because it was just adding an additional test to the tests being run on blood the doctor would draw from the pregnant person anyway. HE mentioned blood screens. Lol at his CYA attempt."

Indeed, when Zoeller appeared on P-I Live, he clearly endorsed mandatory screening. This is the exact transcript (care of @catvoncat) starting at approximate 54:00:
MR. ZOELLER: One of the things that's the most shocking, and I, you know, the whole thing and the number of, you know, 718 deaths last year attributed to drug overdose, prescription drug overdoses, uh, but the rates of addiction, and the one that really bothers me the most is, uh, women who give birth to babies that are addicted –

MR. MCCONNAUGHAY: That's – that's gonna play right into a question we got, 'cause I told you we got a few questions that actually followed you here from Indianapolis –

MR. ZOELLER: Yeah. I hope – I hope those questions are coming –

MR. MCCONNAUGHAY: So let's knock them down as quickly as we can but, uh, please ask Mr. Zoeller that, uh, mandatory drug screens for Indiana men seeking to donate sperm and buy Viagra. After all, that drug use can lead to mutations in their sperm which can cause birth defects, uh, costing the state money and harming babies. Basically they're saying, those who wanna get these things, should they be required to go through drug testing?

MR. ZOELLER: You know, that's not something that our prescription drug abuse task force is focused on. It's mostly the, uh, I mean the rates of, uh, babies born addicted to opiates is the biggest, I mean the problem literally screams out at us the same way the, the babies scream for six weeks. It can be un- I mean, that you can't comfort 'em enough because they're addicted to drugs.

MR. MCCONNAUGHAY: Oh, that's terrible. I got another one here, uh, there's been a lot of press recently expressing your support for mandatory drug testing of all pregnant women –


MR. MCCONNAUGHAY: Similar question – I'm a believer in the Fourth Amendment and observing pregnancy itself is not a reasonable suspicion of criminal behavior. Can you explain why you consider this measure, which appears so brazenly to violate the Constitution, to be legal?

MR. ZOELLER: Well it is legal. I'll tell you, everybody's jumping to the conclusion that when you do a drug screen, you uh – uh, turn somebody in to the police. That's not what we're looking for. You're already given a drug screen, so they're drawing the blood anyway –


MR. ZOELLER: I'm asking that they do another screen to see if you are addicted to opiates or other things that would harm you as well as the baby. The doctor really ought to know that, and most – let's say, a lot of what we hear is the – the women who are pregnant will lie about having a drug problem and they don’t know about it until the baby's born addicted –


MR. ZOELLER: So this neonatal abstinence syndrome – we're not trying to send somebody to court and to be prosecuted. Uh, we're not trying to, uh, take away their benefits from Medicaid, 'cause a lot of these women are Medicaid recipients –


MR. ZOELLER: This is all about the health of the mother, the health of the baby. And it's not a new draw; it's something we're already taking the blood from the pregnant woman, we just want it screened for opiates.

MR. MCCONNAUGHAY: Now, you may have touched on this, but another question from another viewer –

MR. ZOELLER: All right.

MR. MCCONNAUGHAY: Won't mandatory urine screens for, uh, pregnant women deter substance – substance, uh, users from getting prenatal care?

MR. ZOELLER: Well, the fear of being turned in to the police, so we have to make sure that that's not what we're doing here. This is a doctor needs to know.


MR. ZOELLER: Now, urine tests are a little different because it's an on/off. Are you or aren't you? Those blood draws that are already being done – I mean, remember, this is not a new blood draw. A pregnant woman for well-baby/well-mother care is already gonna blood draw. You screen it for a few things dealing with – you know, the mother says she's not taking any drugs, but you oughta know, because if she's lying, you're gonna end up with a baby born addicted and this neonatal abstinence syndrome – I challenge anybody who raises these questions, fearing the long arm of the law or something that they think we're gonna get people arrested – I challenge them to go to the neonatal clinics and watch the babies who are addicted. If you took care of the mother early, you could eliminate a lot of her problems and the baby would have much fewer days in intensive care under this horrendous, uh, problem.

MR. MCCONNAUGHAY: Great point. And we are down to our last minute. I want to thank you so much, Attorney General Greg Zoeller –

MR. ZOELLER: Sure. It's always been –

MR. MCCONNAUGHAY: It's always a delight to have you here.
Note that when McConnaughay reads a question explicitly categorizing the drug tests as "mandatory," Zoeller does not correct him.

(Also note that the argument a doctor needs to know if a patient has an addiction to provide proper treatment would apply to any human being, but Zoeller isn't arguing that every person who sees a doctor in the state of Indiana get drug-screened. Just people who are pregnant.)

I will close by quoting reproductive rights guru Robin Marty from her latest post on this nonsense:
I of course welcome the news that the AG has hopefully changed his mind and will not propose that drug tests be mandatory. I just prefer I not be told that I am the one doing the "misleading."
I would hope my Attorney General has enough integrity to simply admit he was wrong, instead of having his spokesperson fire out missives that imply we are liars.

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