Drinking During Pregnancy Could Be Made Illegal

5th November 2014

Women’s charities have claimed that drinking during pregnancy could become a criminal activity following a court hearing on Wednesday, 5th November.

Local authorities in England’s North West are seeking compensation for criminal injuries for a girl aged just six years old whose growth has been affected due to her mother’s consumption of alcohol during pregnancy. For legal reasons, neither the young girl nor the local authority in question can be named. Campaigners have warned that if it is agreed by the Court of Appeal that the mother committed a crime by drinking alcohol during her pregnancy, the ruling may lead to the criminalisation of refusing a caesarean section or of taking necessary medication.

Neil Sugarman, the lawyer acting on the council’s behalf, has told reporters that the aim of the court case is not to criminalise pregnant women who drink. He did, however, state that the mother in question was drinking to excess and had been warned not to do so, so it is believed to be a crime as set down by the definition of the scheme. The compensation would not be paid to the child’s mother; it would be paid to the taxpayer.

The case will be heard on Wednesday, 5th November at the Court of Appeal, and the ruling is to be expected at a later date. Susan Fleisher, a campaigner, adopted Addie, her daughter, when she was three years old. Addie is now 27. Some years after her adoption, Addie was diagnosed with Foetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS), which was caused by her birth mother consuming alcohol during her pregnancy.

Ms Fleisher told reporters that when Addie was eleven, she [Ms Fleisher] was at an adoptive parents conference in which FAS was discussed. It was then that Ms Fleisher realised that her daughter had all the symptoms, which including certain facial features and difficulties with learning.

After Addie was diagnosed with FAS, Ms Fleisher set up a charity known as the National Organisation for Foetal Alcohol Syndrome UK. The charity offers support for those with FAS, along with their families. In spite of Addie’s condition, Ms Fleisher does not support the idea of criminalising drinking during pregnancy. She believes that no mother causes harm to their child intentionally. Rather, they do it out of ignorance.  She thinks that women either haven’t been told about the risks of drinking while pregnant, they are encouraged by their husbands, or they suffer problems with alcohol.

Clare Murphy, spokesperson from the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, feels that this case risks the setting of a dangerous precedent. She says that if a woman is in a situation in which she really needs to confide in professionals of the health field, they would need is help and resources, not criminalisation.