Should Drinking During Pregnancy Be A Crime?
By now, we are all pretty familiar with the fact that drinking during pregnancy is a no-no.
Not only can it cause serious birth defects, but it can harm a developing fetus, cause premature labor, and lead to life-long learning disabilities. And while many women hear the advice that an occasional glass of wine or beer during pregnancy is perfectly safe (look at the French!), the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists stands by its stance of a zero-alcohol policy during pregnancy. In the college's words, “no amount of alcohol consumption can be considered safe during pregnancy.”
Obviously, drinking during pregnancy is against the laws of responsible motherhood, but for the first time, it may also be against the law.
A mother in England who drank excessively during her pregnancy was charged with a crime under the “Offenses Against The Persons Act” after her daughter was born with fetal alcohol syndrome.
Ultimately, the judge ruled on the case that a crime had not been committed because the baby was unborn and therefore “not a person” at the time, but the case will be going to court for an appeal later this year.
However, with this particular case still up in the air, the question remains: Do women who knowingly ingest substances that could harm their babies, such as alcohol or drugs, during pregnancy commit crimes? Or do they have the right to do whatever they want with their bodies?
For example, a woman in Tennessee was charged with assault for taking meth while pregnant under a new state law that allows women to be prosecuted if their babies are harmed or born addicted as a result of the mother's drug use.
Laws that try to criminalize women for drug or alcohol abuse during their pregnancies are widely controversial, due to women's rights as well as for the fact that opponents say addicted women may not seek help for treatment out of fear of losing their children.
As a former OB nurse, I've seen many babies born to addicted mothers and “casual” users as well, and I have to admit, it's an extremely tough situation to watch a baby suffer as a result of the mother's apparent negligence. But on the other hand, any addiction is a disease, and I would hate to see a woman avoid seeking help out of fear of being charged with a crime. And who is to say where the line is drawn when it comes to what pregnant women “should” do for their babies. Was I guilty of abuse for having my daily cup of coffee? What about that Tylenol I took during my first trimester? Did I not exercise enough?
It's a blurry line to navigate, but at the heart of the matter, I think we all agree that we have the babies'–who can't protect themselves–interests in the front of our minds. And now, apparently, it's up for the courts to decide when the law is necessary to make the distinction of when mother really doesn't know best.
What do you think? Should drinking and drug abuse be a crime during pregnancy?