Empowerment: Three Approaches
to Policy for Pregnant Addicts
IRIS MARION YOUNG
IN THIS ESSAY I use some issues and concepts of feminist ethics, postmodernism, and critical theory to reflect on one very important women's issue: policy approaches to pregnant women who are habitual drug users. 1 Many people, including law enforcement officials, child protection agents, and legislators, think that women who use drugs during pregnancy should be punished for the harm or risks of harm they bring to their babies. I analyze this punishment approach and argue that the situation of pregnant addicts does not satisfy the conditions usually articulated by philosophers to justify punishment. A punishment approach, moreover, may have sexist and racist implications and ultimately operate more to maintain a social distinction between insiders and deviants than to protect children.
Most of those who criticize a punishment approach to policy for pregnant addicts call for meaningful treatment programs as an alternative; I interpret this treatment approach as a version of a feminist ethic of care. For the most part theorizing about the ethic of care has remained at the level of ontology and epistemology, with little discussion of how the ethic of care interprets concrete moral issues differently from more traditional approaches to ethics. By arguing that a treatment approach to pregnant addicts can be justified by an ethic of care, I propose to understand this ethic of care as a moral framework for social policy.
Although I agree with a treatment approach to policy for pregnant addicts, from a feminist point of view there are reasons to be suspicious of many aspects of typical drug treatment. Relying on Michel Foucault's notions of disciplinary