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Fetal Abuse

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Fetal Abuse

When I was a senior in high school one of my classmates was pregnant and abusing cocaine during her whole pregnancy. This upset me so greatly and it still does today when I think about it. I felt angry with the mother, concerned and scared for the child, and I also felt confused about exactly what consequences the mother would face if anyone ever found out. Chapter fourteen in our textbook covers "Fetal Abuse": The Case of Drug-Exposed Infants, so naturally I became very interested on the subject. One of the issues brought up is criminal court response and whether the use of illegal drugs during pregnancy should be prosecuted. This is a controversial issue in our society that is very important to me. Currently, no state has passed legislation that actually makes it a "crime" to abuse drugs while pregnant. "Instead, criminal prosecutions have been based on existing criminal laws, which were never designed or intended to govern prenatal conduct." (Sagatun, Edwards 1995)

One of the main controversies within this topic is the question of fetal person hood by the law. Fetuses hardly have any legal rights since they are not considered to be children. Abortion rights advocates say that these laws may prevent women from receiving pre-natal treatment. They think that the women will be scared of getting caught. A spoke person for the National Abortion and Reproduction Rights Action League says, "Women do have a responsibility, to have a healthy outcome if they've chosen to carry to term." The executive director of the national anti-abortion group Alliance argues, "Why is it that, if a child is wanted, it is a patient, and if not, it's OK to get rid of it?" (Zeller 1998)

Those against criminalizing "fetal abuse" also argue that it interferes with a woman's constitutional rights to privacy. According to Paltrow, "recognizing fetal abuse as a crime moves us toward criminalizing pregnancy itself because no woman can provide the perfect womb. A woman should not give up her legal rights just because she chooses to become pregnant." (Paltrow, 1989) The concept of gender discrimination is also brought into play because drug-abusing women would be getting prosecuted and drug-using male partners don't face any type of consequences.

In 1992 in the Case of Johnson v. Florida, a mother was convicted of two counts of delivering a controlled substance to another person, because of her use of cocaine during her pregnancy.
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