Should it Ever be a Criminal Offence for a Pregnant Woman to Drink Alcohol?
What if the woman has been warned that her drinking is likely to harm the foetus?
In the UK, lawyers for various local councils are representing some 80 children who have been mentally or physically damaged because of their mothers' consumption of alcohol during pregnancy.
A local council is currently taking a case to the Court of Appeal for a ruling on whether a child who is now in foster care and whose brain was damaged because her mother drank during pregnancy was a victim of a crime against her. The basis of the case is that the mother was warned of the risk to the foetus if she continued drinking, and that she therefore knowingly poisoned it, thereby committing a criminal offence.
If the Court of Appeal rules in this test case in favour of the child, this will set a precedent for many new cases to be brought against mothers whose children have suffered Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder because their mother has deliberately continued to drink during pregnancy in spite of being warned of the consequences.
A bottle of vodka - Temptation for some people
Symptoms of Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder:
Some of the symptoms of this disorder are behavioural problems, learning disability and physical illness.
I personally know of one family where the mother was a heavy social drinker, who had six children, and was actually drunk when giving birth on one occasion. The youngest of her children told me that only one of his siblings was completely healthy. and some had very serious disorders - one had epilepsy whilst another had a hormonal order causing premature ageing and had to take lifelong strong medication.
According to the Times newspaper, up to 7,000 babies a year are damaged by the drinking habits of their pregnant mothers. Many of these children are removed from their mothers and taken into care.
One Day at a Time
The Court's Decision:
In the lower court, at first instance, it was decided that the mother had indeed administered a poison or other destructive or noxious thing, thereby inflicting grievous bodily harm (which is a criminal offence). But the Court decided that a crime had not been committed because an unborn child is not a "person", and in that situation, there could not be a crime against a person.
A Precedent for a New Right?
If the Appeal Court sets a precedent by deciding that knowingly causing damage to an unborn child by consuming alcohol during pregnancy is a crime, this will, in effect, be giving new and previously unrecognized rights to the unborn child.
Giving legal rights to unborn children will have a considerable effect on women’s rights, including the State’s interference in their private lives. Will this mean that women will in future be prosecuted for even one drink or moderate drinking during pregnancy if their doctor or social worker disapproves? Where will it all end?
The coin is still up in the air.
Links to Recent Articles
- S TA T E P OLICIES IN B RIEF As of JANUARY 1, 201 6 - Substance Abuse During Pregnancy
- Drinking alcohol while pregnant is ‘common’ | News | Nursing Times
Drinking alcohol while pregnant is common in UK, Ireland, and Australasia, according to UK researchers, sparking concerns from midwives.
- "Discouraging" number of U.S. women drink during pregnancy - CBS News
Experts warn there is no safe amount of alcohol to drink while pregnant