State Law Doesn't Allow For Prosecution Of Pregnant Women For Causing Indirect Harm To Fetuses

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In a recent case, the Missouri Court of Appeals in Kansas City ruledthat a state law allowing criminal and civil action against a personwho harms a pregnant woman and her fetus does not permit theprosecution of a pregnant woman for causing indirect harm to a fetus,the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports.

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Thecase involves Janet Wade, a Buchanan County woman who, along with herinfant, tested positive for marijuana and methamphetamine use. Thestate law says that the life of a human being begins at conception andthat fetuses have "protectable interests in life, health andwell-being." According to the Post-Dispatch, the law,which was enacted in 1986, has been used successfully in murder andmanslaughter cases, as well as in wrongful death lawsuits againstpeople who have caused a fetus' termination.

A state circuitcourt judge dismissed the case against Wade because charges filed inthe case were based on a section of the law that states: "Nothing inthis section shall be interpreted as creating a cause of action againsta woman for indirectly harming her unborn child by failing to properlycare for herself or by failing to follow any particular program ofprenatal care." The decision was upheld by appellate Judge Lisa WhiteHardwick.

St. Charles County Prosecutor Jack Banas said theappellate court's ruling could lead to challenges in other similarcases still pending. Buchanan County Prosecutor Dwight Scroggins onWednesday said that he did not intend to ask the state Supreme Court toreview the case. However, the state Legislature might be able to changethe statute to prevent women from harming their fetuses with drugs andalcohol, Scroggins said (Anthony, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 9/20).

Reprinted with permission from kaisernetwork.org. You can view theentire Kaiser DailyWomen's Health Policy Report, search the archives, and sign up for emaildelivery at kaisernetwork.org/email. The Kaiser Daily Women's Health Policy Report is published for kaisernetwork.org, afree service of The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.

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