I’m saddened at the attempt to criminalise women who drink alcohol during pregnancy

I read with concern this week that the court of appeal will rule on whether mothers should face criminal charges for drinking excessively during pregnancy. A council in North-West England has instructed lawyers to test whether a crime was committed against a 6 year old girl who was brain damaged by alcohol in the womb. GLP solicitors in Manchester are bringing the legal action while representing 80 other children diagnosed with foetal alcohol spectrum disorders.

Women who damage their unborn babies by drinking alcohol during pregnancy could be guilty of a criminal act if an unprecedented legal test case is successful.

The council is going to the Court of Appeal to establish that a six-year-old girl who suffered brain damage from her mother’s drinking during pregnancy is the victim of a crime.

It argues the mother criminally “poisoned” her unborn child because it has evidence she was warned of the risks if she continued to drink. The child is now in foster care.

If successful, the case could have far-reaching implications. Lawyers acting for the council are representing 80 children nationally who suffered physical and mental damage from their mothers drinking alcohol while pregnant.

The children suffer from foetal alcohol spectrum disorder, a range of symptoms caused by alcohol damage in the womb. These include physical illness, learning disabilities and behavioral problems.

My personal reaction to this is one of absolute horror that we are yet again going down this route, I then looked at an American debate on foetal rights and got even more horrified.

The following statement outlines Blenheim’s view;

 “Drug and alcohol misuse can have health implications for the unborn child and Blenheim would advise all women during pregnancy to follow medical advice when considering their alcohol and drug consumption. However we are seriously concerned about this attempt to criminalise women suffering from the recognised health conditions of alcohol and drug use disorder. Blenheim supports women to decrease the risk to their unborn child as well as to themselves. Many women with serious drug  and alcohol problems with proper support go on to be great mothers; we know this because we support hundreds every year.  Sometimes this takes time and sadly some are never able to manage and local authorities have a difficult decision to take over the child’s long term future.  We are concerned that such a criminalisation of alcohol consumption during pregnancy will further stigmatise and act as a barrier to women seeking support.  We are mindful also that this is part of a wider moral debate about the rights of women in relation to the rights of the unborn child. On this debate Blenheim has throughout its history advocates for the rights of women.  Once a child is born the needs of the child are paramount.”

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