Is drug use during pregnancy a crime?

Discover what Pennsylvania’s stance is on drug use during pregnancy. Learn what both sides have to say in the debate over criminalizing it.

There is no secret that Pennsylvania is embroiled in the country’s heroin epidemic. The use of this illegal and incredibly harmful drug is at all time high levels. It is becoming a problem for communities all over. One area of the problem, though, that people may not think about is how it is affecting the unborn children of drug addicts.

State protection for the unborn

The Morning Call notes Pennsylvania does not pursue criminal charges against mothers who use illegal drugs during pregnancy. This does not mean nobody cares about these unborn children. It does, however, reflect political opinions and concerns.

One of the main reasons why the state does not criminally prosecute in these situations is the debate over when life begins. This is critical for those who want to keep abortion legal. If an unborn baby is considered to have rights during a pregnancy, then that could derail pro-abortion allies. As it stands currently, the state does not view a person as a person until he or she is born, so unborn babies have no rights.

Another top concern is the government’s intrusion upon personal lives. People against criminalizing drug use during pregnancy argue that this type of regulation is a stepping stone for micro managing women during pregnancy and could lead to additional regulations for what women can eat and what they do during pregnancy.

Lastly, many are concerned that criminalizing drug use during pregnancy could deter women from getting prenatal care. They may be too afraid of going to jail to get care that could help ensure their babies are as healthy as possible when born or to catch issues that could pose a risk to the mother.

Around the country

Many other states side with Pennsylvania. In fact, Tennessee is the only state that criminalizes drug use during pregnancy. For most other states, mandatory testing or treatment may be used. In some states, a pregnant woman may be charged with child abuse and have her child taken away upon birth.

Final notes

The Guttmacher Institute notes the debate over pregnancy, drug use and criminal charges has been prevalent since the 1980s. The most common decision is it is child abuse, but many laws do not reflect this. In general, it seems the fight is held up by politics and concerns over the civil rights of the mother. Pennsylvania merely requires reporting a pregnant woman suspected to be using drugs. The state also provides targeted treatment, but if the mother does not want to go, then she cannot be forced. If you have experienced the issue of pregnancy during childbirth, whether you are the pregnant mother or you are someone concerned about an unborn child, it could help to contact an attorney, such as the Bellwoar Kelly, LLP.