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In the News: Drinking During Pregnancy Could Become a Crime

A landmark test case due to be heard by the Court of Appeal could criminalize heavy drinking during pregnancy. Sky News has reported that it will be disputed that a six-year-old girl is the victim of a crime because she suffered brain damage when she was exposed to alcohol in the womb – a danger that her mother was conscious of.

The case comes amongst a 50 per cent rise in FAS (Fetal Alcohol Syndrome) in the last three years, with 313 impaired from exposure to alcohol in the womb in 2012-2013. Figures from the Department of Health show in total around 1 in 100 babies are now born with alcohol-related conditions. Expert psychiatrist Dr. Raja Mukherjee cautioned that pregnant women do not have to binge-drink to be at jeopardy.

“If you avoid it that’s the safest route,” he told Sky News. “That doesn’t mean that people who’ve drunk a little bit have harmed their child, most people won’t have done, but if you want to guarantee safety and you want to guarantee no risk then no alcohol is the best way forward,” he added.

Sue Brett, the adoptive mother of 15-year-old Glenn who was born with FAS after his mother drank heavily, said women need to be better informed to the risks. She told the news channel: “It should be to abstain from alcohol throughout pregnancy. You can’t make it a criminal offence if you are still legally saying this is a safe amount to drink or you can drink. It needs to be clear from the start that you can’t drink.”

After Glenn was unprotected to alcohol in his mother’s womb, he has physical incapacities affecting his visualization and movement, and the intellectual age of a four-year-old. Susan Fleisher, the creator of the charity NOFAS-UK which supports awareness about the effect of alcohol during pregnancy, come to an agreement that more needs to be done to cut the number of children being affected, but does not think prosecution is the solution.

She stated to sky news that “women can’t be prosecuted for something they don’t know about, and, to be fair, women who are alcoholics, who have an issue with drinking, should be given support and should be given information so they know there’s a chance they could harm another life.”

In my opinion, this issue is very important but can be tricky to deal with. I do believe that if a mother is aware she is pregnant and excessively drinking, that it should be a problem. But if a woman isn’t aware of her pregnancy, how can we punish her for that? You can’t enforce a law and not apply it to everyone and this would be a law that would end up being very circumstantial. I know a few women who drank in the beginning of their pregnancy because they weren’t aware of the fact that they were pregnant. The question is – how would they actually enforce this law? If you or a loved one are struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll free 1-800-951-6135.


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