FRANKFORT, Ky. — Mothers of drug- and alcohol-addicted newborns could face criminal prosecution under a controversial measure proposed last week by an Eastern Kentucky lawmaker.
Rep. Richard Henderson, D-Jeffersonville, prefiled the bill at the urging of several prosecutors in his district who are frustrated with the growing number of women who give birth to babies with alcohol or drugs in their systems.
"There should be some kind of deterrent," Henderson said. "A child being born with a debilitating injury — that's not fair to anyone, least of all the child."
Under the proposal, a woman could be charged with substance endangerment of a child — a felony — if the child is born with alcohol or an unprescribed controlled substance in his system. The mother also could be charged if the child has a health problem caused by the mother's ingestion of drugs or alcohol.
The proposal probably will have an uphill battle in the state legislature, one key lawmaker said.
"As far as I am concerned, this is just another attack on women," said Rep. Tom Burch, D-Louisville and chairman of the House Health and Welfare Committee.
Nearly every major medical group, including the American Medical Association and the March of Dimes, opposes penalizing pregnant addicts through the criminal justice system.
The threat of incarceration could lead mothers to avoid prenatal care and hospitalized births or push them toward abortion, said Dr. Sharon Barron, an associate professor at the University of Kentucky who does research on the effects of a woman's drug and alcohol use during pregnancy.
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