The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania has agreed to decide if a pregnant woman’s use of illegal drugs amounts to child abuse, a case that Professor David S. Cohen had petitioned the court to hear.
Cohen, along with Women’s Law Project Executive Director Carol Tracy, is representing a mother accused of child abuse after giving birth to a baby who tested positive for opiates, anti-anxiety benzodiazepines and marijuana.
A county judge had ruled that, under the state’s Child Protective Services Law, abuse had not occurred even though the newborn required treatment for drug dependence. The Superior Court disagreed.
State lawmakers did not intend for the protective services law to apply to parental actions during pregnancy, Cohen has argued.
"No one thinks using drugs while pregnant is good, but using the criminal justice system and the civil child abuse system to punish people for doing so just makes a bad situation much, much worse," Cohen told the Morning Call of Allentown in an article published on April 9.
The article quotes a court filing by Cohen and Tracy, which observes that most states have taken a non-punitive approach to the issue and “almost every major medical and public health organization has recognized that punishing women for drug use during their pregnancies is counterproductive to public and private health.”
Cohen said he will be filing a brief with the court in May.