Should women be charged with a crime when newborns die?

A controversial piece of proposed legislation has raised a great deal of debate in Louisiana about the proper course of action when a fetus is killed or injured when a pregnant woman uses drugs. The sponsor of the bill, Gerald Long, pulled the proposed legislation, acknowledging that there were problems with the bill that should be addressed before the matter moves forward. Should the bill come back into play in future legislative sessions, women who abuse drugs while pregnant could be charged with a crime.

The bill would have authorized prosecutors to file battery or homicide charges against mothers whose infants were killed or injured due to drug use. Long stated that the purpose of the bill is to address moral and social issues related to drug abuse. However, the bill did not gain the support of one of the state's most influential conservative groups, the Louisiana Family Forum.

Planned Parenthood stands firmly opposed to this type of legislation, which the group believes criminalizes the choices of women rather than providing them with addiction recovery resources. The group suggested that the money that the state would pay to incarcerate women under such laws should instead be spent on addiction treatment for pregnant women. It was also pointed out that some women who are addicted to drugs might choose abortions in efforts to avoid criminal charges.

The proposed bill was modeled after similar legislation in another state, which allows prosecutors to charge women with assault or homicide if an unborn child is harmed or killed due to drug abuse. In pulling the bill, Long has stated that he will try to complete a study resolution on the matter in the coming year before determining how to proceed. In the meanwhile, the debate over whether pregnant women in Louisiana should be charged with a crime based on drug use will continue.

Source: nola.com, "Should women who use drugs while pregnant be charged for harm to child?", Emily Lane, May 5, 2015

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