Mom’s Drug Use During Pregnancy is Not a Crime Against Her Unborn Baby, Court Rules

State   |   Micaiah Bilger   |   Oct 3, 2016   |   5:19PM   |   Lansing, MI

In a case with implications on the abortion debate, a Michigan court ruled that a pregnant woman who used drugs just days before giving birth to her son did not abuse her child.

The Associated Press reports a Michigan appeals court threw out a conviction against mother Melissa Lee Jones on Thursday, ruling that the state child abuse law does not apply to babies in the womb.

Jones told a court that she used methamphetamine while she was pregnant, the last time being five days before giving birth to her son, the Courthouse News Service reports. Jones’s son weighed less than 4 pounds when he was born full-term in Sturgis, St. Joseph County, Michigan in 2015; and he tested positive for the drug, according to the report.

However, the Michigan Court of Appeals said the state law against child abuse only applies to children who are born. According to the AP:

In a 3-0 decision released Friday, the court says Michigan law refers to acts that harm a “child” but not a fetus. The court says Jones’ prenatal drug use is not a crime under that law.

The 30-year-old Jones was sentenced to at least three years in prison in 2015.

The appeals court wrote in its decision: “Defendant argues that the first-degree child abuse statute was improperly applied to her because a fetus is not included within the statutory definition of ‘child,’ and she therefore could not have caused harm to a ‘child’ as required by the statute simply by using methamphetamine during her pregnancy. We agree.”

The judges continued, “Because a fetus is not a ‘child’ for purposes of the first-degree child abuse statute, defendant cannot be guilty of first-degree child abuse based solely on the fact that she used methamphetamine while she was pregnant, and the trial court erred by accepting her guilty plea.”

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Jones reportedly abandoned her son at the hospital after he tested positive for the drug and hospital staff called child protective services; however, that incident was not part of the case against her, according to the report.

The implications of the case are interesting. State and federal laws conflict in regard to rights and protections for babies in the womb, especially in cases of abuse and violence.

Legally, unborn babies up to 20 weeks of pregnancy or later are not protected from the violence of abortion in all 50 states because of Roe v. Wade.

However, many states do protect unborn babies in other circumstances. Currently, 37 states have laws that recognize the unlawful killing of an unborn child as homicide in at least some circumstances, according to the National Right to Life Committee. A federal law also protects babies in the womb who are victims of federal and military crimes. All of these laws include exceptions for abortion.

In regard to drug abuse during pregnancy, the Courthouse News Service reports: “Tennessee is the only state with a law specifically criminalizing the use of drugs while pregnant. State high courts in Alabama and South Carolina have interpreted existing child-abuse laws to allow prosecution of drug-using pregnant mothers.”

Abortion activists fight against laws recognizing unborn babies as victims of violence and abuse because such laws affirm that unborn babies are valuable human beings who deserve to be protected. Abortion activists recently succeeded in defeating a Colorado bill that would have protected unborn babies in certain circumstances after the state witnessed a horrific case when a 7-months pregnant woman was attacked and her unborn baby girl was cut out of her womb. As a result, authorities could not charge the attacker with the baby’s death. At seven months of pregnancy, the baby girl was viable outside the womb and may have survived if she had received medical care.