Many mothers often ask themselves whether it’s really that bad to have a drink while pregnant. Doctors still advise against it, and research shows that heavy drinking or drug use can have a negative impact on a child’s health.
Court Steps In
However, a recent court ruling said that a mother should not be charged with child abuse for drinking while pregnant, even if she knows that it can endanger her child and put their health at risk.
This ruling, made by the highest court in Pennsylvania, says that mothers who drink or take drugs while pregnant have not committed child abuse, according to state law.
According to the ruling, state law does not count fetuses as children. Therefore, they do not have abuse protection until they are born. Since drinking occurs at the stage when the child is still a fetus by law, it cannot be considered child abuse.
Justices Not All on the Same Page
All of the court justices, however, did not agree.
One justice claimed that drinking while pregnant should be treated like any other form of neglect, such as malnourishment. She says that since the effects from drinking while pregnant show up after the child is born, it should count as abuse and the mother held responsibly.
Where the Decision Comes From
The decision comes from a case involving a baby who had to spend nearly three weeks in the hospital after being born. She was suffering from drug dependence and had severe withdrawal symptoms (children exposed to drugs in the womb can become addicted) that required immediate medical care.
The girl’s mother was using a variety of drugs, testing positive for opiates, marijuana, and benzodiazepines only weeks before the girl’s birth.
The mother was completely absent during the child’s extended stay in the hospital. She did not come to see her or ask about her status. Clinton County was given custody of the child after release from the hospital.
Mother’s Lawyer Celebrates
The lawyer of the mother welcomed the ruling. He claimed that drug users should not be punished for what he believes is an illness where they have no choice. He says that addicts need help, and shouldn’t be treated as criminals. He also went on to say that bringing charges against drug users would only keep them from seeking treatment, which would hurt both the child and the mother.
The court’s decision overturned another ruling that said that the mother’s drug use could be considered child abuse. The earlier ruling claimed that intentional or reckless behavior by the mother, even before the child was born, is child abuse. The new ruling says that this is not the case and that mothers should not be charged.
What Being Convicted Can Do
An individual convicted of child abuse is put on a registry, which can have an impact when trying to find a job or buy a home.
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