Tuesday, January 30, 2007

While I'm At It

As long as I'm takings digs at Amanda Marcotte I might as well critique her post on criminalizing pregnancy outcomes as well. Amanda states that

[i]n sum, it’s a really bad idea to criminalize pregnancies based on outcomes. No pregnant woman is absolutely perfect and all can probably have something dug up on them that they did during pregnancy—or before it—that could be used to blame her if she has a stillbirth or gives birth to a disabled child.
I agree with her up to a point; in general there's no way to demonstrate what causes a birth defect or a miscarriage. We shouldn't go around prosecuting pregnant women for not getting enough folic acid. But she also claims that giving birth to a baby that tests positive for drugs is a "non-crime", at which point I have to disagree.

As I've touched on before, its hard to come up with a coherent definition of child abuse that doesn't include taking drugs prior to giving birth. Unlike the case with miscarriages or birth defects, babies aren't born with drugs in there system for no apparent reason. If an infant tests positive for drugs there's a high degree of probability that his mother was using drugs during her pregnancy. This is a volitional act which causes harm to the child, and is analogous in most respects to exposing them to second hand smoke, though the effects of exposure to drugs in the womb is likely far more damaging.

Presumably Amanda doesn't support beating children, or starving them, or locking them in a closet for 24 hours a day. If exposure to drugs in the womb causes effects similar to oh say... head trauma, for example, and you would call the physical act of hitting a child upside their head "child abuse", then are you not also bound to categorize drug use in the same category? They're both volitional acts the outcomes of which are reasonably easy to anticipate; it doesn't seem to me that one is substantively different from the other.

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