Sunday, May 06, 2007

Question Of The Week, 5/6/07

Good morning. I thought of this weeks question while I was reading my local morning paper.

Stage set for fetal-rights debate
Issues of ‘fetal personhood,’ abortion rights arise in court cases


Two Northwest Missouri court cases could fuel discussions on fetal rights when mothers use drugs during their pregnancies.

The cases spotlight a growing debate in Missouri and across the country, with both sides digging in for a potential showdown on abortion rights.

The issue of "fetal personhood" is seen by some as an attack on a woman's right to privacy, which could snowball into a challenge against Roe v. Wade. Others see it as a no-brainer solution to the problem of children being born with illegal drugs or alcohol in their systems.


In DeKalb County, Meghann Jones, 24, of Cameron, Mo., faces child endangerment charges after her daughter was born prematurely and tested positive for the presence of marijuana. Meanwhile in Buchanan County, prosecutors in a related case are challenging a public defender's motion for dismissal that Circuit Judge Patrick Robb approved last year.

While women across the state have been convicted of felony neglect or child endangerment when their newborns tested positive for drugs or alcohol, the Buchanan County case is believed to be the first to reach the state appellate court level.

Buchanan County Prosecuting Attorney Dwight Scroggins filed a felony child endangerment charge last year against a 28-year-old St. Joseph woman. Mr. Scroggins said he has decided to appeal Mr. Robb's decision - which held that prosecutors failed to prove that child endangerment occurred - and anticipates arguments from the Western District Court of Appeals sometime this summer and a possible decision by fall. A public defender recently submitted a reply to Mr. Scroggins' appeal.

"The immediate issue will be what the appellate court does with it," Mr. Scroggins said. "It seems clear to most that using drugs during pregnancy should be a crime and we believe the Legislature believes it is already adequately covered by the endangering statutes."

One statute Mr. Scroggins has cited in the case defines endangerment as a crime when "the person knowingly acts in a manner that creates a substantial risk to the life, body, or health of a child less than 17 years old."

The St. Joseph case involved a woman who allegedly used methamphetamine and marijuana while pregnant with her son. In both situations, Mr. Scroggins and DeKalb County Prosecuting Attorney Bart Spear are relying on a 1988 Missouri statute they interpret as extending the same rights to unborn children that are available to other state residents.

Mr. Robb had a different interpretation of the law when he chose to dismiss the charge against Ms. Wade.

"This statute specifically excludes the conduct of a woman for failing to properly care for herself and any resulting harm to her unborn child," he wrote. The current law states that a woman can't be charged for "indirectly" harming her unborn baby.

An appeals court decision disallowing fetal rights would likely force state lawmakers to clarify the issue. A bill is currently floating through Jefferson City that would clarify the current law to read that a woman can be charged with a felony if she "chronically and severely exposes an unborn child" to a controlled substance, such as meth and marijuana. With two weeks left in the session, the bill is dying in committee.

Clarifying the law aside, some wonder if criminalizing drug-addicted pregnant women is the right avenue to treat what some view as the wrong approach to fighting drugs. Mr. Scroggins, for one, thinks punitive measures are needed.

"This has been an issue as long as people have been using drugs," Mr. Scroggins said. "Now we're seeing meth babies. We're seeing crack babies."


The prevalence of fetuses being exposed to alcohol or drugs is a concern nationwide. About 5.5 percent of newborns are prenatally exposed to one or more illegal drug, according to a recent study by the Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School. The percentage balloons to about 11 percent when exposure to alcohol is factored in, researchers at the University of California-San Francisco recently reported.

A lesser number of Buchanan County babies testing positive for drugs have been linked to heroin, and the type of drugs testing positive in infants are a reflection of drug culture in society today, Mr. Scroggins said.

While newborns testing positive for alcohol or drugs is "absolutely tragic," criminalizing the mothers is misguided, said Pamela Sumners, executive director for Pro-Choice Missouri. Part of the problem with "policing" pregnant womens' activities is where to draw the line, she said. For example, should a pregnant woman who smokes cigarettes be criminally penalized since the activity has the potential to harm the newborn?

"The women who have these problems didn't get pregnant and turn into an addict - it's the other way around," Ms. Sumners said. "It's tragic when something like that happens, but obviously we should put our societal resources into rehabilitation and preventative measures."

Samuel Lee, an anti-abortion lobbyist in Jefferson City, Mo., and founder of Campaign Life Missouri, said the issue should be criminalized, in most part, because it's common sense.

"When there's a conscious abuse of an unborn child with drugs or alcohol - where she knows the child is in danger - she should absolutely be penalized," he said. "They have an obligation to that unborn child ..."

But the proverbial elephant in the room is that the issue could set the table for a serious challenge to abortion laws.

A worst-case scenario for Mr. Lee would be if the higher courts rule in the Buchanan County case that Mr. Robb was correct to dismiss the charge.

"No one wants (pregnant) women to be charged for not taking their vitamins," Mr. Lee said, "but they could interpret it as anyone else who is assaulting her or causing her harm (is subject to prosecution), but not the woman herself."

Ms. Sumners said her organization is monitoring the issue because of a ruling's far-reaching effects.

"We always keep a careful watch on any move that would grant the rights of personhood to a fetus that hasn't been born yet," she said.

President Bush signed new rights for fetuses into law in 2004 by creating a criminal offense for harming an unborn child when a violent crime is committed against a pregnant woman.

A preliminary hearing for Ms. Jones' case is tentatively set for June 20. Her daughter has been placed into foster care.

Ray Scherer can be reached at and Aaron Bailey can be reached at

This weeks Question Of The Week is. If a woman test positive for alcohol or illegal drugs during her pregnancy should she be charged with child endangerment?

I'll post my answer in the Comment Section Monday night.

Thanks go to:
The St. Joseph News-Press

God Bless America, God Save The Republic.


Blogger Praguetwin said...

Answering your direct question, I will have to say no.

Mostly, I think that if such an ordinance were to be passed, first a foremost free drug counseling -- and hospitalization if needed -- must be made available for all pregnant women before such a law can be considered.

Also, light drug use, although harmful, must somehow be distinguished from heavy drug use. The article was right to mention cigarettes. Does a woman who smokes a couple of cigarettes a day, or has a glass of wine here and there, or smokes an occasional joint be put into the same category as a woman who smokes crack every day or is a heroin junkie? Clearly not.

But that latter type of woman must be offered treatment before she can be considered a criminal, at least IMHO.

2:17 AM  
Blogger Always On Watch said...

Ever read The Broken Cord? The book is about the devastating effects of fetal alcohol syndrome. A must-read!

I have strong feelings about protecting the unborn. Well after her own two biological children were grown, my cousin took as her personal mission the adoption of five boarder babies. I've watched her sacrifice a lot to help these children. All but one has turned out quite well (learning disabled but functional); that one has fetal alcohol syndrome and was the only of the 5 who stayed "unsupervised in the womb" because the mothers of the others (Only 2 different mothers for 5 children) were confined and off their substance of choice after the first trimest. Anyway, that one child of my cousin's is now on the streets--literally. Drugs, booze, prostitution, the lot. We've lost track of her, but suspect that she has already had children.

To answer your question, I say "Yes!" My views on first-trimester abortion are more libertarian than that of most Christians. Woman's right to determine her body and all that. But the effect of substances on the fetus can be lifelong and devastating. Adults with fetal alcohol syndrome do now understand the concept of action have consequences. Their lives are a wreck, and they often end up on the welfare rolls of the state--or dead.

I tell you this....Were the topic protection of pets in the womb, the left would be right in there advocating protection.

9:20 AM  
Blogger David Schantz said...

First I want to thank you for stopping by to answer this weeks question. "If a woman test positive for alcohol or illegal drugs during her pregnancy should she be charged with child endangerment?" To be honest, I wish I could say no because I don't think most women that test positive for alcohol or illegal drugs during their pregnancy intended to harm their unborn child. They have a problem, they are addicts not criminals. So why do I have a problem with saying no to charging them with child endangerment, all you have to do is send them to a treatment center right? Most addicts are blessed with the ability to con their way through life. They would jump at the chance to go to treatment to get out of a jail sentence. A lot of them are so good at the treatment game that they sound like counselors. After they get out they go back to using. Unless something happens that makes them see a need for change. A little jail time just be what they need. So I'll have to say yes, charge them with child endangerment.

God Bless America, God Save The Republic.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

"must be made available for all pregnant women before such a law can be considered" Ya..right screw the kids and let's continue to coddle women and treat them like victims even when they are criminals or the victimizers. Absolutely pathetic!

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Blogger Katherine Thayer said...

The Law is to protect unborn child for abusive moms

8:50 PM  

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