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Case could lead to drinking alcohol while pregnant becoming illegal


Drinking during pregnancy could become a criminal offence, women’s charities have said.

A council in the north west of England is seeking criminal injuries compensation for a six-year-old girl with ”growth retardation” caused by her mother’s alcohol consumption during pregnancy.

If the Court of Appeal agrees that the woman committed a crime it could pave the way for pregnant women’s behaviour to be criminalised, according to the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) and Birthrights.

“Pregnant women deserve support and respect, not the prospect of criminal sanction”

Ann Furedi and Rebecca Schiller

The little girl was born with Foetal Alcohol Syndrome, which can cause retarded growth, facial abnormalities and intellectual impairment. The syndrome was diagnosed 252 times in England in 2012 to 2013.

But the charities claim that there is “continuing uncertainty” in the medical profession over the relationship between drinking and harm to the foetus.

In addition, they say that mothers and their babies would not be best served by treating pregnant women with drug or alcohol abuse problems as criminals.

Ann Furedi, chief executive of BPAS, and Rebecca Schiller, co-chair of Birthrights, said: “Making one particular form of behaviour during pregnancy into a criminal offence would lay the ground for criminalising a wide range of other behaviours because they may too pose a risk to the health of the baby.

“When we consider that the taking of necessary medication, such as treatment for epilepsy or depression, or the refusal of a caesarean section could be seen to fall into the category of maternal behaviours that may damage the foetus, the trajectory of such an approach is deeply worrying,” they said.

“Pregnant women deserve support and respect, not the prospect of criminal sanction for behaviour which would not be illegal for anyone else,” they added.

Lawyers representing the local authority are seeking to prove that the six-year-old’s mother committed a crime under the Offences Against the Persons Act 1861.

Pregnancy drinking 'crime' feared

In January it emerged they had failed in their bid to win compensation on the child’s behalf from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority.

A written ruling by the Upper Tribunal of the Administrative Appeals Chamber said the child was born with foetal alcohol spectrum disorder as a ”direct result” of her mother’s drinking.

But it concluded: ”If (the girl) was not a person while her mother was engaging in the relevant actions then… as a matter of law, her mother could not have committed a criminal offence.”

Neither the girl nor the mother was identified in the ruling.

The case will be heard at the Court of Appeal on November 5 with a ruling expected at a later date.





Readers' comments (2)

  • Unfortunately this case will never stick as it opens the justice system up to prosecute everything and thats just not going to happen.

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  • A Foetus-sadly-has no protection in law.It can be aborted up until very late stages of pregnancy with impunity.

    You can't have it both ways!! Either it's a person in the womb that can be damaged by its' mothers behaviour(hence this case) or it isn't a person until it becomes 'a child' which at present is when it's born.

    If this case is upheld ( and personally speaking, life begins at conception) then it will spawn immense problems that this country isn't morally fit to deal with.

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