Is Drinking Whilst Pregnant A Crime?

There has been a recent Court case between a local authority and a woman who had a baby with foetal alcohol syndrome. The local authority which cares for the child, who is now six years old, is claiming against the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (claims for blameless victims of violence crimes).

The Court will now hear allegations that the woman disregarded warnings from professionals that her intense alcohol consumption risked harming her unborn baby. The allegation is the crime of poisoning under the Offences Against The Person Act 1861.
Sadly the woman is no longer in contact with the child, who has suffered previous developmental problems. Drinking alcohol whilst pregnant can result in brain damage or distorted facial features. One question the Court faces is whether an unborn child is a person in law (therefore could a criminal offence have been committed?).

There has been much debate following this case. The legal rights of a foetus are commonly argued as there is not enough clarity on the area. There have been calls for mothers who drink excessively during pregnancy to be prosecuted. There are some countries that do currently prosecute pregnant mothers.

Under the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme, you have to demonstrate that you have been the subject of a violent crime. It was accepted at the original appeal hearing that the child had been poisoned by their mother. This is currently being disputed between the parties and will be heard by the Court of Appeal.

Whatever the decision, it will create a legal precedent that will make a substantial change about a pregnant woman’s right to control her own body and whether an unborn child has legal rights. We anticipate that it will take several months to be heard in the Court.