A court hearing which is set to decide the right a child has to claim compensation for their mother drinking alcohol during pregnancy could pave the way to the criminalisation of alcohol abuse while pregnant.
Although several groups and charities have argued that the ruling could undermine women’s freedom to make decisions for themselves whilst carrying their baby, it has been found that the total number of cases of foetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) has tripled since records began 16 years ago.
FAS is a pattern of mental and physical defects that can develop in a foetus when high levels of alcohol have been consumed during pregnancy. Children born with the disorder tend to have distinct facial features including small, narrow eyes and a small head. Other complications can include hearing and ear problems, a week immune system, epilepsy, liver damage, kidney and heart defects, cerebral palsy and other muscular problems.
Just recently, an authority in north-west England has been fighting to demonstrate that the mother of a six-year old girl born with foetal alcohol syndrome committed a crime by drinking during her pregnancy. If successful, it would no doubt set a precedent that could be used in criminal prosecutions of mothers whose babies are born with the disorder.
An earlier tribunal hearing of the same test case ruled that the child was in fact the victim of a crime. The judge found that there had been administration of a poison or other destructive or noxious thing which thereby inflicted grievous bodily harm.
The Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority appealed against the decision and it was later decided that a crime was not committed however.
Those who are against the ruling have argued:
“As well as undermining women’s choices, it might also deter women who need support from seeking help during pregnancy and put health professionals under pressure to report women suspected of drinking to the police.”