drug-doing moms and abortion rights
December 22, 2003 01:04 PM

Is doing drugs during your pregnancy murder? I quite adamantly don't think so.

Morgaine brought this question up in this week's WHB question. A woman in South Carolina has been convicted of murder after she may or may not have done cocaine while pregnant, which may or may not have led to stillbirth.

That patently sucks.

The logic behind this decision follows the same premise as the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, namely that it's sometimes convenient for us to think of a fetus/kid/whatever as a legal person. In fact, the South Carolina precedent (SC v. Whitner) for extending the concept of child abuse to any "viable" fetus, while the only one of its kind in any state, sounds in some ways narrower than the UVV attempt (which doesn't place any limits on viability, doesn't require any knowledge that the pregnant victim is pregnant, let alone intention to injure the fetus/baby/whatever you choose to call it).

That said, I think both both approaches are absurd. Any notion of "viability" is extremely vague, as is brought up again and again whenever the term is used legally. It's not a cut-and-dry legal or medical term, this "viable" thing. I'm not just biased by my own opinion (namely that, as long as it's physically attached to you, it's still a part of your body, and sadly yours to abuse as you like), though I am certainly confused by the extensibility of these fetal child abuse concept - will you eventually be prosecutable for failing to take your folic acid for giving your kids fat genes?

So, aside from the vagueness with which the Nation article surrounds Regina McKnight's conviction, it is very difficult for me to see a pregnant woman's behavior toward her own body as a criminal act against her baby/fetus/whatever you choose to call it. Kerri made a good point that a woman who can't provide for a kid/fetus/whatever ought to make the smart choice and have an abortion, just as she ought to have made the decision not to do drugs in the first place, but again - both my self-righteous and my practical sides say that holding a woman criminally accountable for treatment of a non-born kid/fetus/whatever is pointless. Like many drug offenses, I doubt that prosecution will stop the problem. Does it make women think more about their behavior during pregnancy? Does it help the kid/fetus/whatever? Does it erode abortion rights? No, probably not, and quite likely yes.

One of the things I saw raised in some other articles about McKnight was concerns over the violation of her privacy implied by testing for drugs. I don't have so much of a problem with that. I say, in the event you are not in a position to make informed, rational decisions about your care and the care of your child and these things are being provided for by the public, the public should have some ability to direct you towards better, cheaper (in the long term) care, i.e. rehab to prevent you from having a crack baby. If you want to have and pay for your own crack baby, that makes you a shitty person, but not one over whom the public has control - unless, that is, you fail to provide for your kid once it's born.

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