Drug-Test Case Could Affect Abortion Issue

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Whose rights come first: A pregnant woman's or those of the fetus she is carrying? The U.S. Supreme Court announced Monday that it will review a case delineating precisely that dilemma. In 1985, a South Carolina hospital decided it would take any necessary measures to ensure the health of an unborn child — including running a drug test on the mother, and reporting those results to the police. Women whose tests were positive could choose to be arrested for providing drugs to a minor or undergo drug addiction treatment. Now, the Court will decide the merit of a case brought in 1993 by 10 women who claimed the drug tests violated their Fourth Amendment protection against "unreasonable searches."

This case is being closely watched by both sides of the abortion debate: A federal legal precedent favoring fetus rights over those of the mother could have sweeping ramifications for women's reproductive health rights. If the Court decides the hospital did, in fact, have a right to test the pregnant women for drugs without their consent, the Justices are essentially affirming the position of the South Carolina legislature: A fetus is a child under the state's child abuse laws, and so the law is necessary to protect against child abuse. High courts in several other states have struck down similar drug-test policies, ruling against the idea that a fetus is a child. As always, no one wants to guess what the Supreme Court might decide, but according to TIME senior writer Adam Cohen, "there has been a long trend on the part of this Court to cut back on Fourth Amendment rights."