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Burden of Proof

S.C. Public Hospital Tested Patients, Aided Prosecutors

Aired February 29, 2000 - 12:30 p.m. ET


GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, CO-HOST: Today on BURDEN OF PROOF: Pregnant women tested without their consent. The United States Supreme Court will decide if a South Carolina hospital had the right to test pregnant women for drug use and then turn those results over to prosecutors.

ANNOUNCER: This is BURDEN OF PROOF with Roger Cossack and Greta Van Susteren.

VAN SUSTEREN: Hello and welcome to BURDEN OF PROOF.

In 1989, a South Carolina hospital began testing pregnant patients for drug use without their consent and then handing the results to prosecutors. Women who tested positive were arrested and charged with distributing drugs to a minor.

ROGER COSSACK, CO-HOST: In 1993, 10 women sued the hospital, claiming the urine testing was performed without court warrants and constituted an unreasonable search, which violated their Fourth Amendment rights. After the lawsuit was filed, the hospital discontinued its drug-testing practice, but not before 30 women were arrested on the maternity floor.

VAN SUSTEREN: Joining us today from Los Angeles is Patricia Ireland, who is president of the National Organization for Women, and, in New York, Lynn Paltrow of the Women's Law Project. And in Charleston, South Carolina, we are joined by Robert Hood, who is the attorney for the Medical University of South Carolina. And also in Charleston, Police Chief Reuben Greenberg.

COSSACK: And, here in Washington, Laura Atchley (ph); constitutional law scholar, Bruce Fein; and Melissa Simpson (ph). And in the back, Richard Andress (ph) and Sarah Boncer (ph).

Lynn, let's go right to you. You have filed before the Supreme Court. What are you asking for?

LYNN PALTROW, WOMEN'S LAW PROJECT: Well, the women are asking for a review of what happened to them and some justice. They went to the hospital, hoping to get medical care for all of their health problems. They didn't know that they were going to a hospital that provided no drug treatment programs for pregnant women, and that, when they were being tested for what they thought was a medical diagnosis, to provide the hospital with information for treatment, then instead of being used for medical purposes, it was being -- what was really happening was a search, that information would be turned over to the police. And women who thought that they would get help, instead were taken out of that hospital, dragged out in chains and shackles, some of them still pregnant, others bleeding from having just delivered.

VAN SUSTEREN: Reuben, you are the police chief down in Charleston, South Carolina. Lynn says that some were arrested in chains and shackles at the hospital. Did that happen to any woman?

CHIEF REUBEN GREENBERG, CHARLESTON, S.C. POLICE: Well, we had -- no, that was not the particular aim of the policy. Instead...

VAN SUSTEREN: But, was -- but, let me just stop you for one second. Was any woman arrested in chains -- put in chains and shackles at the hospital as a result of having a dirty drug test?

GREENBERG: No. The answer to that is: No. Women were arrested, but they were not chained and shackled. We did take measures to hold them initially at the hospital to keep them from walking away.

VAN SUSTEREN: How do you do that?

GREENBERG: Well, I think that was done in one case for somebody...

VAN SUSTEREN: But, how was it done?

GREENBERG: Well, what happened is somebody was handcuffed while they were in the bed, to keep them from leaving.

VAN SUSTEREN: And actually handcuffed to the bed was a woman?

GREENBERG: I understand it that what the plaintiffs have alleged.

COSSACK: Lynn, the policy behind what the state of South Carolina was doing was to protect children from being born drug addicted. I think that's a noble policy. What's wrong?

PALTROW: Well, the policy, itself, has never worked. Women continue to come into the hospital throughout that period because addiction is a disease; it's not just a decision. These women had a disease for which they hoped to get treatment. And, rather than do what the federal government recommends, what the American Medical Association recommends, which is to set up a treatment program for the women and for their children that they want to have and they want to have healthy babies; instead, all that they did was call in the police and prosecutors and set up a mechanism for taking women out of that jail -- out of that hospital and straight to jail.

VAN SUSTEREN: Bobby, you represent the hospital in connection with this case. And, while I think it's noble to check, just to make sure that the fetus is not going to be a sick infant, what I have a little problem with is: After conducting the test, without the consent of the women, it is then turned over to the police. What about the patient-doctor privacy issues? ROBERT HOOD, ATTORNEY, SOUTH CAROLINA OFFICIALS: Well, I'm glad you asked that because, first of all, each of the patients did consent to the urine test. It's a medically necessary test for a lady who's pregnant. The obstetrician taking care of that lady needs to know what her condition is. And if she's been using cocaine, it's very important for her medical care that the doctor know that. Then, when the baby is born, it's very important for the pediatric specialist or the neonatologist to know whether or not the child has been subjected to cocaine. The baby is going weigh about four pounds, and it is going to be a pathetic human being...

VAN SUSTEREN: Cab I just stop you for one second?

HOOD: ... in need of serious care.

VAN SUSTEREN: I am in total agreement with you, that we need to make sure that these infants are going to be in the finest health. Where I draw the line is when the doctor turns over, or the hospital turns it over to Reuben to come in to make an arrest and to prosecutor. What gives the hospital that authority to turn over that information.

HOOD: The fourth circuit court of appeals, our appellate court from the United States district court in Charleston, said that it was a special interest, a requirement that the state of South Carolina, as a governmental entity, to protect the unborn baby. That is what this whole policy is about. It has nothing to do anything except for protecting babies.

COSSACK: Chief, let me just ask one question, Bobby, were the women told, when they were given this urine test, that if, in fact, if the test came back positive for drugs, the information would be turned over to the police?

HOOD: Yes, they were aware of that. There were public announcements over the news media in the city of Charleston. They were given pamphlets about it.

COSSACK: Did they sign a release saying I understand that my drug test will be turned over to the police, if in fact, they come up positive?

HOOD: No, they did not. They signed a consent form on admission to the hospital to have tests done that were medically necessary, including urine tests. You know, we're talking about child abuse here, and a mother at the end of her pregnancy delivering a child that's a pathetic individual that sometimes is born dead, sometimes is born after cocaine exposure and addicted to cocaine.

VAN SUSTEREN: Let's go out to Los Angeles, Patricia Ireland, you have heard Bobby's remarks, what's your reaction to what he says?

PATRICIA IRELAND, NATIONAL ORGANIZATION FOR WOMAN: Well, none of us wants to have babies that are still born or born with illness or disability. But this is a policy that not only doesn't work, it is actually counterproductive, which is why the American Association of Pediatrics and the March of Dimes oppose it, not just NOW and others.

It has resulted in more women avoiding prenatal care, avoiding hospital deliveries. In fact, since that kind of a policy was adopted statewide, there have been a higher infant mortality rate. So it doesn't work, except for politicians, who then get to tout they're tough on crime, but like the rest of the war on drugs it just hasn't been effective for the women, for the children, for our families and communities.

VAN SUSTEREN: Reuben, how does it work, do you get a call from the hospital, we got another one?

GREENBERG: That's not what happens. What happens is the person is determined to be addicted to cocaine, which we have all agreed is very, very bad for the unborn child. And then, the person is given an educational message, a medical information message, indicating the deleterious effects of cocaine on developing children in the womb. That is what happens.

VAN SUSTEREN: When does the arrest come in, though?

GREENBERG: Well, we're going step by step how this process works, and a lot of people simply didn't know that, and were glad to be informed of that, and they could stop using cocaine, just that simple. Next, what happened is they were told, if they didn't stop using cocaine, then there could be prosecution could follow after that, and an appointment was made so they could receive treatment for that particular kind of addiction that that parent may have had.

And subsequent to that, and if they fail to go to that particular appointment for treatment, then and only then were the police notified. Otherwise, we would have no way of knowing.

VAN SUSTEREN: But I thought they were arrested at the hospital. I mean, how did...

GREENBERG: Well, they were actually in the hospital for prenatal care, and for purposes of the delivery. We did not arrest people simply to stop them from using cocaine in and of itself, only with respect to the unborn child. Once they had delivery, then from our viewpoint in the police department, they were no more significant to us than any other law violator or any other drug user, but as long as they were pregnant, then we wanted them to stop using the cocaine, because it could have tremendous bad affects with respect to their child, which is child abuse in this state.

COSSACK: All right, let's take a break.

Up next, critics of the South Carolina law say women were arrested right out of their hospital beds just after giving birth. Do women give up certain rights when they're pregnant? And what tests can your doctor order without your permission or knowledge? Stay with us.

(BEGIN LEGAL BRIEF) In the one-paragraph insanity defense notice filed by alleged railway killer Angel Maturino Resendiz's attorney, the lawyer misspelled his client's name and wrote the wrong trial date.



VAN SUSTEREN: Good news for our Internet-savvy viewers: You can now watch BURDEN OF PROOF live on the Worldwide Web. Just log-on to We now provide a live video feed, Monday through Friday, at 12:30 p.m. Eastern Time. If you miss that live show, the program is available on the site at any time via Video On-Demand. You can also interact with our show and even join our chat room.

COSSACK: The U.S. Supreme Court has decided to hear a case against a South Carolina hospital that drug tested pregnant patients and provided results to local prosecutors. Between 1989 and 1993, 30 women were arrested on the maternity ward of the Medical University of South Carolina.

And now let's go to Frank Sesno with some breaking news -- Frank.



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