Women’s charities welcome Court of Appeal ruling that drinking in pregnancy is not a crime
The Court of Appeal has ruled that the mother of a girl born with Foetal Alcohol Syndrome did not commit a crime under the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 by drinking during pregnancy. A council in the North West of England had hoped to prove this in order to claim criminal injuries compensation for the child.
The British Pregnancy Advisory Service (bpas) and Birthrights intervened in the case because they believed it would establish a legal precedent which could be used to prosecute women who drink while pregnant and would do nothing for the health of alcoholic mothers and their babies. The two women’s charities welcomed the ruling today, following a hearing last month.
Ann Furedi, chief executive of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service and Rebecca Schiller, co-chair of Birthrights, said:
“This is an extremely important ruling for women everywhere. The UK’s highest courts have recognised that women must be able to make their own decisions about their pregnancies.
“Both the immediate and broader implications of the case were troubling. In seeking to establish that the damage caused to a foetus through heavy drinking was a criminal offence, the case called into question women’s legal status while pregnant, and right to make their own decisions. Any ruling which found that drinking while pregnant constituted a ‘crime of violence’ could have paved the way to the criminalisation of pregnant women’s behaviour – an alarming prospect given the ever expanding list of activities women are warned may pose a risk to the health of their baby.
“A small number of women drink very heavily throughout their pregnancy. Their problems will not be helped either by the threat of prosecution - making them even less likely to seek help - or through ever more warnings about the dangers of drinking while pregnant. Women in this situation need rapid access to specialist help and support, as do children born with disability caused by alcohol abuse. This case was brought by the council in order to win compensation for a child born with Foetal Alcohol Syndrome, which could be used to fund her care. We must find a way to ensure that the small number of children born with this condition have the resources they need to live their lives to the full without resorting to criminalising their mothers.”
Notes for editors:
Foetal Alcohol Syndrome is a complex condition, denoting a collection of features including retarded growth, facial abnormalities and intellectual impairment, and there is continuing uncertainty in the medical community over the relationship between alcohol consumption and harm to the foetus. While it occurs in babies born to alcoholic women, most babies of alcoholic women will not be affected, as other factors - including nutritional status, genetic make-up of mother and foetus, age and general health - are also believed to play a role
For more information please contact firstname.lastname@example.org or Clare Murphy at bpas on 07788 725185 or Rebecca Schiller at Birthrights on 07793084945
Birthrights is the UK's only organisation dedicated to improving women's experience of pregnancy and childbirth by promoting respect for human rights. We believe that all women are entitled to respectful maternity care that protects their fundamental rights to dignity, autonomy, privacy and equality. We aspire to advance the human rights and lawful treatment of all child-bearing women. Birthrights is a registered charity funded entirely by donations and run by volunteers. More information can be found at birthrights.org.uk.
bpas is a charity which provides reproductive healthcare services including pregnancy counselling, abortion care, miscarriage management and contraception from more than 40 centres across the UK. It supports and advocates for reproductive choice. More information can be found at www.bpas.org