Thursday, May 24, 2012

Crack Babies, Running Mothers and the Politics of Pregnancy

The conduct of women while pregnant has become highly scrutinized. From the time we realised that activities such as smoking or drinking could negatively affect the quality and length of life of the fetus, there has been increasing pressure for women to curtail these and any behaviors that might prove detrimental to the child she carries.

     Recent news items underscore this pressure, and all would do well to pay attention to the conversation generated. Consider, for instance, Amber Miller, who gave birth...hours after running a 26-mile marathon. Says Miller, "For me, it wasn't anything out of the ordinary. I was running up until that point anyway." ABC news interviewed Dr.Jacques Moritz regarding whether or not it was safe for Miller and her baby to run, to which he replied  "as long as she did not become winded during her exercise portion, the running part, she was fine," though he cautioned "You have to be able to breathe...
If you're not getting oxygen, the baby is not getting oxygen."

In other news, doctors are seeing "explosive growth" in babies being born to addicted to pain pills. As one who works in a hospital, I can attest first hand the devastating effects of addiction and the sad state of those addicted. The idea of passing entering the world addicted is cringe-inducing. USA Today reports that
The trend reflects how deeply rooted abuse of powerful narcotics, such as OxyContin and Vicodin, has become. Prescription drug abuse is the nation's fastest-growing drug problem, classified as an epidemic by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention..National statistics on the number of babies who go through withdrawal are not available, and states with the worst problems have only begun to collect data. Scattered reports show the number of addicted newborns has doubled, tripled or more over the past decade.
How should a society respond to these developments? Should women be penalized for posing threats to the child in utero? If so, what does this leave the abortion industry? Anyone who argues for the personhood of the unborn must surely desire some sort of legal recourse on behalf of the unborn. Yet, as always, this sentiment generates controversy.Ada Calhoun, in her article "The Criminalization of Bad Mothers" exposes the intersection of law and pregnancy.  Emma Ketteringham, the director of legal advocacy at the National Advocates for Pregnant Women, recoils at the idea of pregnant women being prosecuted for their actions while pregnant:
The idea that the state needs to threaten and punish women so that they do the right thing during pregnancy is appalling. Everyone talks about the personhood of the fetus, but what’s really at stake is the personhood of women. It starts with the use of an illegal drug, but what happens as a consequence of that precedent is that everything a woman does while she’s pregnant becomes subject to state regulation.
“It starts with cocaine, and then it’s cigarettes and alcohol. How much alcohol? And when? It’s only a matter of time until it comes to refusing a bed-rest order because you need to work and take care of your other children and then you have a miscarriage.

 Ketteringham raises valid points. What constitutes danger to the fetus? Is there definite line between genuine danger and innocent mistake?

All in all, these developments simply reflect a nation still divided over the issue of abortion. I doubt the issues would be newsworhty at all in a nation that had taken a definite stance on the personhood (or lack thereof) of the unborn. Alas, the now infamous Roe v. Wade decision feigned neutrality, refusing to decide whether or not the unborn in fully human.Yet, effectively, the court decided that the unborn is not  the subject of rights under our Constitution. The personhood question will not go away. As a pro-lifer myself, I welcome the opportunity to present rational arguments for the personhood of the unborn. But I don't advocate easy answers or rash decision making. The women who carry children are just as important as their babies. There has to be some middle ground where we can honor the unborn and their mothers equally. Where that is, I don't know.

The Criminalization of Bad Mothers:

Pregnant mother running:

Addicted Babies: