The other day we discussed whether it is correct to use the law to protect gestating babies from harm they will experience after birth, even if it means criminally punishing their mothers. My perspective was that while we could certainly take the idea too far, the underlying principle is sound. From my post, “Fetuses as Chopped Liver:”
I don’t see why child welfare-type laws should not apply to gestating fetuses–who are, after all, future born children–even if abortion is allowed. What is wrong with laws that deter or punish reckless activities that lead to serious health problems in the children once they are born. Why should it matter when the harm occurs when human life is an uninterupted continuum: The embryo today, is the fetus tomorrow, is the baby next year, is the old person in eighty years. They are the same individual from the moment life begins until they die.
A USA Today article illustrates the need. Doctors report an explosive increase in babies born addicted. From the story:
Medical authorities are witnessing explosive growth in the number of newborn babies hooked on prescription painkillers, innocent victims of their mothers’ addictions. The trend reflects how deeply rooted abuse of powerful narcotics, such as OxyContin and Vicodin, has become. Prescription drug abuse is the nation’s fastest-growing drug problem, classified as an epidemic by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “I’m scared to death this will become the crack-baby epidemic,” says Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi. Last month, she asked the state Legislature to establish a task force to compile data on drug-exposed babies and develop prevention strategies.
Criminal law, of course, isn’t the only answer to the problem. You need carrots to help induce women to seek help to prevent abusing or neglecting their gestating babies through substance abuse, and the resources to assist when they look for aid. But you also need a stick.