A landmark court case could see women who drink during pregnancy branded criminals. Lawyers for a disabled girl say that the actions of her mother, who was 17 when she was pregnant, should be considered a ‘crime of violence’.
The Daily Mail reports that the girl, who is now six, was born with foetal alcohol syndrome and suffered growth retardation. Her legal team argue this is because of the large quantities of alcohol her mother drank, which they say was half a bottle of vodka a day and eight cans of strong lager.
The ruling over the child, known as ‘CP’, would have profound effects on women in this country according to the British Pregnancy and Advise Service (BPAS) as it could pave the way for the behaviour of a pregnant woman to be criminalised and subject to state interference in their daily lives.
The Court of Appeal is considering its decision after the hearing yesterday and it is understood there are said to be about 80 other cases waiting for the results of this hearing which could see more women taken to court.
Three judges are set to make the decision in this test case and they will rule whether the child is entitled to compensation. Lord Dyson, the Master of the Rolls, Lord Justice Treacy and Lady Justice King said the court would take time to consider its decision.
Jon Foy QC, appearing for the child, was representing a council in the North West of England which has responsibility for CP. He said the mother “was aware of the dangers to her baby of her excessive consumption during pregnancy” which was said to be about 40-57 units of alcohol a day. He said “she was reckless as to whether there would be harm to the foetus. She foresaw that harm might be caused but went on to take the risk.”
Compensation would be paid out, if successful, under the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA). Ben Collins, appearing for CICA, asked the court to reject CP’s legal challenge, telling judges;
“There is a conflict of ideas about what is to is not dangerous, not only in terms of frank but also in terms of smoking and food.”
He asked the court whether “a pregnant mother who eats unpasteurised cheese or a soft boiled egg knowing there is a risk that it could give rise to a risk of harm to the foetus’ might also find herself accused of a crime?”
The chief medical officer’s advice to women who are pregnant or trying to conceive is that they “should avoid alcohol altogether.”
“However if they chose to drink to minimise the risk to the baby, we recommend they should not drink more than one or two units once or twice a week and should not get drunk,” they add.
The advice not to drink is particularly for the first three months of pregnant when the foetus is developing and there is an increased risk of miscarriage.
NICE guidelines say there is uncertainty over how much alcohol is safe to drink in pregnancy, but if a low level is consumed there is no evidence of harm to an unborn baby.