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Pregnant Women’s Rights

Ankrom v. Alabama; Kimbrough v. Alabama, 2013 Ala. LEXIS 8 (Ala. 2013)

Outcome:     Very unfavorable

Issue

The issue in these cases was whether the word “child” in an Alabama criminal child endangerment statute should be construed to cover fetuses.

 

AMA interest

The AMA opposes legislation that criminalizes maternal drug addiction.

Case summary

Two pregnant mothers had ingested controlled substances, which were subsequently found in their newborn babies’ blood streams.  In each case, an Alabama criminal court convicted the mothers of child endangerment, although the child endangerment statute did not specifically cover acts of potential harm to fetuses.  The cases were appealed to the Alabama Supreme Court and then consolidated.

A number of public health organizations, including several specialty medical societies, filed amicus briefs in the Alabama Supreme Court.  Their briefs argued that an expansion of the child endangerment law to cover pregnant women who ingest illegal drugs, would on balance, be detrimental to the children’s health, as such a law would deter expectant mothers from seeking prenatal care.  The briefs also argued that it would be contrary to the intent of the Alabama legislature to construe the word “child” as including a fetus in the child endangerment law.

On January 11, 2013, the Alabama Supreme Court held that the child endangerment statute was intended to cover fetuses.

AMA involvement

The AMA, along with the Medical Association of the State of Alabama, adopted some, but not all of the arguments in the amicus briefs.  Specifically, the AMA and MASA adopted the arguments pertaining to public health and medical practice, but they disclaimed the arguments pertaining to legislative intent.

Alabama Supreme Court brief of Ankrom

Alabama Supreme Court brief of Kimbrough

Mississippi v. Buckhalter, 119 So.3d 1015 (Miss. S.Ct. 2013)

Outcome:    Favorable

Issue

The issue in this case was whether a woman could be prosecuted for manslaughter if she had voluntarily ingested illegal drugs during the course of her pregnancy, which resulted in the death of her unborn child.

AMA interest

The AMA opposes legislation that criminalizes maternal drug addiction.

Case summary

A woman who gave birth to a stillborn child was indicted for manslaughter.  The indictment alleged that she had ingested illegal drugs, which had caused the stillbirth.  The trial court dismissed the indictment, holding that the Mississippi manslaughter statute should not be construed to cover the injuries a pregnant woman’s actions might cause to her fetus.  The State of Mississippi appealed the dismissal order to the Mississippi Supreme Court.

The Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed the dismissal of the indictment.  However, it did not reach the merits of the issues raised on appeal.  It held that the accused in this case could have been indicted under other homicide statutes, but the manslaughter statute did not apply to a person liable under other homicide statutes.

AMA involvement

The AMA joined several other organizations in an amicus brief, supporting the dismissal.  The brief argued that the imposition of criminal sanctions on women who continue pregnancies in spite of drug dependency problems will not deter their drug abuse.  It also argued that such prosecutions would jeopardize the therapeutic relationships between pregnant women and their physicians and thus imperil women’s access to health care.

Mississippi Supreme Court brief