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Philadelphia Inquirer Cites Professor David Cohen’s Bid for Ruling on Pregnant Mothers' Opioid Use

Professor David S. Cohen

February 15, 2018

In a Feb. 14 article,The Philadelphia Inquirer cites a petition by Professor David S. Cohen seeking a Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision whether opioid use by pregnant mothers constitutes child abuse.

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.

The article notes that the woman was accused of child abuse by Children and Youth Services, but the Clinton County Court of Common pleas sided with the mother because her actions affected the fetus.

CYS appealed the matter to state Superior Court, where the judges ruled that her drug use might constitute child abuse if it could be shown that she intentionally or knowingly took actions that were likely to injure her child after birth. The panel sent the case back to the lower court, but two of the judges urged the state Supreme Court to review the matter.

“Our position is that actions taken while pregnant are not what the state statute is supposed to cover,” Cohen told the Inquirer. “That’s not what the Legislature intended, and it would raise serious Constitutional issues.”

In their petition, the article said, Cohen and Tracy point out that federal child abuse laws aim to help addicted women and that a proposed Pennsylvania bill that would define drug use by pregnant women as child abuse failed to make it out of committee.  

The petition also notes that physician societies have opposed punitive approaches to women seeking medical care.