Pregnant women at times engage in activities that may affect the well-being of the unborn child in one way or the other. The question that then arises is whether pregnant women should be punished for exposing their fetus to any form of risks during the pregnancy term. For as long as anyone can remember, law enforcement authorities, judges and elected officials sought to punish women for all actions that they took during their pregnancy that may directly affect the well-being of the fetus before birth (Janet 10-14). Most of the dangers posed to the fetus arise from women who fall in the categories of women who use drugs or suffer from substance abuse. In most cases, these women are committed to civil jail for their actions at the time of pregnancy or for the new mothers who are likely to lose custody of their children even after delivery. The motivation for such action is the misguided belief by the supporters of the promotion of fetal rights as separate from that of the mother whose rights are deemed separate from that of the fetus. Women’s and child rights sponsors approve that women should involve themselves in behaviors that positively endorse the birth of healthy children. However, these supporters also recognize that substance or drug abuse by the woman should be addressed in a constructive manner as the adoption of corrective measures against such women eventually affects the well-being of the mother and the child. This informs the decision of public health officials not to treat pregnant mothers with reproductive problems as criminals. Courts have also endeavored not to punish such women under existing criminal justice systems especially when the right of the fetus poses a significant threat to the reproductive rights of the woman. For example, in the US, the Supreme Courts of Florida, Kentucky, Nevada, Ohio and Wyoming have held that criminally prosecuting women for conducts during pregnancy is unconstitutional and lack any legal basis (“Punishing Women for their…” 2). According to Marmor (13), the law is all the time flanked by moral considerations that leads us into a temptation to ground the law on moral-ideological considerations due to its normative character. Therefore, it is important to ask ourselves whether doing a certain act as prescribed by the law or what a particular law counts as a legal requirement depends on what is good or morally required. Similarly, the conduct of women during pregnancy is affected by considerations bordering on the law and moral considerations. Pregnancy is a life changing event in which the woman becomes more protective, caring, and nurturing in most cases. Once pregnant, the woman must eat healthy, get plenty of rest, exercise, and avoid stress. Many types of the conduct of women during pregnancy can harm a fetus in several ways that lead to physical or mental abnormalities in the child. Medical researchers have found that smoking, when a woman is pregnant, may lead to defects in the development of the fetus. For example, low birth weight that may cause severe health problems and infant mortality, and that drinking alcohol during pregnancy may lead to fetal alcohol syndrome that leads to mental retardation, growth deficiencies before birth and after birth and facial abnormalities. Some drugs can directly impair the development of body organs and systems of the baby that are usually formed within the first ten weeks or so of pregnancy. At this stage, certain drugs may damage organs that are still developing, such as the eyes and the nervous system. A woman’s conduct during pregnancy that may ultimately affect the state of the unborn child may also include the failure by the pregnant woman to obtain prenatal care, or proper nutrition that may have a negative effect on the life of the fetus. Also, a woman’s conduct during pregnancy may also increase the risk of miscarriage and premature delivery. Therefore, in order to allow the state or the criminal justice...
Bibliography: Brown, Sarah S. Prenatal Care: Reaching Mothers, Reaching Infants. Washington, D.C: National Academy Press, 1988.
Punishing Women for their Behavior during Pregnancy: An Approach That Undermines Women’s Health and Children’s Interests. Centre for Reproductive Rights. September 2000. Web. 1May 2013
Garfield, Jay L, and Patricia Hennessey. Abortion, Moral and Legal Perspectives. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1984.
Janet, Gallagher. Prenatal Invasions & Interventions: What’s Wrong With Fetal Rights, 10 Harv. Women’s L.J. 9, 10-14 (1987).
Marmor, Andrei. Philosophy of Law. Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press, 2011.
Levine C. Taking Sides: Clashing Views on Bioethical Issues, 14th Edition, Issue 8, 152-169
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