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Pennsylvania court rules mother's use of narcotics during pregnancy is not child abuse

Decision comes as rising number of babies are born with chemical dependency

Ian Waldie/Getty Images

Pennsylvania's Supreme Court ruled Friday that mothers who use illicit drugs during pregnancy are not guilty of child abuse. The decision comes as a growing number of chemically dependent babies are being born in the U.S.

What are the details?

The court's opinion stated that fetuses do not fall under the law's definition of a child, after hearing a case involving an infant who spent 19 days in the hospital due to severe narcotic withdrawal symptoms, NBC News reported.

Justice Christine Donahue wrote in the majority opinion, "We conclude, based on the relevant statutory language, that a mother cannot be found to be a perpetrator of child abuse against her newly born child for drug use while pregnant."

She further explained that "a person cannot have committed child abuse unless he or she was a perpetrator, and a person cannot be a perpetrator unless there is a 'child' at the time of the act."

"Had the General Assembly intended to include a fetus or unborn child under the protections of the [state's Child Protective Services Law], it would have done so."

According to Penn Live, two justices opposed the decision, with jurist Updyke Mundy writing in the dissent that the baby girl in the case "suffered bodily injury after birth when she began exhibiting withdrawal symptoms. Therefore, the mother was the perpetrator of child abuse on (the baby) after birth, notwithstanding the fact the she ingested the drugs prior to birth."

Anything else?

The Orange County Register reports that the court's ruling comes at a time when the nation's justice and child welfare systems are struggling with how to transition from dealing with "crack babies" to "heroin babies."

Over time, authorities have gradually opted to remove fewer newborns from the custody of addict parents amid a growing epidemic, but according to the Government Accountability Office: "The health, well-being and safety of these infants may be jeopardized if they are sent home with parents with substance use disorders who do not have a system of support and are not in treatment or recovery."

One last thing…
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