Professor David S. Cohen arguments in a Pennsylvania Supreme Court case that will decide if a mother’s use of illegal drugs during pregnancy amounts to child abuse drew coverage from the news media.
Cohen, collaborating with an attorney from the Women’s Law Project, is the lead attorney representing a mother who tested positive for suboxone and marijuana when she delivered a baby at Williamsport Hospital in 2017. A judge in Clinton County cited the state’s Child Protective Services law in ruling that abuse had not occurred, but the state’s Superior Court overruled that decision.
Before the state’s high court on Sept. 25, Cohen argued that state law defines a perpetrator of abuse as the parent of a child—not a fetus—when the conduct in question occurs, The Legal Intelligencer reported on Sept. 27.
The Superior Court ruling failed to take into account the legal definition of a perpetrator, Cohen said.
In its coverage on Sept. 25, The Philadelphia Inquirer quoted Cohen as saying that state lawmakers who have considered revising the law to include prenatal abuse have declined to do so.
“The legislature has decided not to do this, time and time again,” Cohen said.
The courts have wrestled with how to address the problem of drug abuse by pregnant mothers, with jurists such as Superior Court Judge Eugene B. Strassburger contending that treating addicted pregnant women as abusers might deter them from seeking prenatal care and rehabilitation, the Inquirer noted.
The newspaper also cited data showing that opioid use in pregnancy is “growing explosively in Pennsylvania,” with more than 3,000 drug-exposed newborns delivered in 2017, compared to 788 in 2000.