Pa. court: Drug abuse while pregnant isn’t child abuse

FILE PHOTO: Judges in Pennsylvania have ruled that women who use illegal drugs while pregnant can not be charged with child abuse.
Caption
FILE PHOTO: Judges in Pennsylvania have ruled that women who use illegal drugs while pregnant can not be charged with child abuse.

Credit: Dmitry Kalinovsky/Shutterstock

Credit: Dmitry Kalinovsky/Shutterstock

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has ruled that mothers who use illegal drugs while pregnant are not committing child abuse in the eyes of the law.

The reason -- the state's definition of child abuse does not include fetuses or unborn children, The Associated Press reported.

The case centered around a child who spent 19 days in a Pennsylvania hospital after being born drug-dependent. Her mother, who had been jailed and released while pregnant, tested positive for opiates, marijuana and benzodiazepines, two weeks before the baby was born, the AP reported.

The mother did not check on her daughter while the baby was in the hospital. Clinton County Children and Youth Services had protective custody because of it. A county judge said that the law didn't cover what happened before the baby was born. Child advocates said that if she was found guilty of child abuse, it could protect future children if she became pregnant again, the AP reported.

The Child Protective Services Law specifically says children when describing victims, the judges said.

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“The fact that the actor, at a later date, becomes a person who meets one of the statutorily-defined categories of ‘perpetrator’ does not bring her earlier actions -- even if committed within two years of the child’s bodily injury -- under the CPSL,” Justice Christine Donohue wrote in the decision.

Two judges on the panel dissented, saying that it depends on when the injury is first found, the AP reported.

“The facts in in this matter more closely resemble neglect cases where the injury manifests at some point in time after the neglect as in cases of malnourishment from lack of food, or suffering from a severe diaper rash from failure to routinely change diapers,” Justice Sallie Mundy wrote in the dissenting opinion.

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