Drug Addicted Babies

Jill R. Basso

Advocates for Children
College Park Scholars
University of Maryland at College Park

As part of Amy Blank's issues in advocacy class we were asked to lobby in Annapolis. My group lobbied for a bill entitled "Drug addicted babies" After doing research on this topic, I became very interested in the rights of the child and the rights of the mother in this situation. I found the results of my research extremely disturbing and depressing. In my opinion, the babies aren't given enough right and the mother is given too many.

At this time in America if a baby is born addicted to drugs the courts can take no legal action because it is not considered child abuse. As defined by Compton's interactive dictionary child abuse is "Whenever violence and cruelty occur against children. This is considered abuse because the victims are extremely vulnerable and unable to defend themselves." There are many different forms of child abuse in America. However one form which is clearly detrimental isn't even considered abuse. What I am talking about is the fact that drug addicted babies are not considered abused. My claim is Crack babies is a much bigger problem then we tend to think and something needs to be done about it. A proposed solution would be to call these babies just as abused as battered and neglected children and have the same legal actions taken. This is shown by the fact that 11% of all pregnant women abuse drugs. (Farr 2). I intend to prove that crack babies are abused by the facts that the baby suffers from prenatal care, withdrawal symptoms, and sometimes severe disabilities or death.

One reason why drug addicted births should be considered abuse is the fact that many times a baby is stillborn or dies soon after birth. This baby should have been given a fair chance and the person who prevented this (the mother) should be held accountable for the death of another human being. As one advocate states "these parents are young and frustrated and don't view this as homicide." (Romero 2). In the rare case where this is brought to trial as in the case of People vs Hardy or Johnson vs Florida the charges were dropped due to violation of a women right to privacy which includes "the right to bodily integrity, and the right to make child bearing decisions" (Farr 3). However is the mothers right to privacy more important then the fetuses right to life? If the fetus does live most of the time they have severe disabilities and are never able to live a normal productive life. "Crack addicted infants cannot make eye contact, have difficulty bonding and must not be stimulated...Crack addicted babies also frequently have low birth weight and are premature.' (Goodwin 4) Some more of these disabilities include severe brain damage and A.D.D.(Attention Deficit Disorder). An example of this type of behavior is two year old Tom who is functioning way below his age level "He doesn't talk yet and prefers to crawl. When he does try to walk, he drags one leg behind the other... he's very touch sensitive; he won't pick things up...He cannot cope with any irregularities in his life...he throws a lot of temper tantrums and has to be taught how to play. (Goodwin 4) Another example is the account of Lennox School District (near the LA airport) "Children impaired by crack have relating to each other, as well fears, phobias, and poor attention spans. They can't concentrate. They can't read. They don't have much of a conscience. They are more violent and depressed. They are aggressive, isolate themselves and need to be taught the same things over and over again." (Connell, 5) This is all in response to the fact that crack was taken by the mother during pregnancy. An act that I feel is both violent and cruel.

Another complication is that these babies are now born addicted to illegal drugs, and suffer the same withdrawal effects that adults do. Just because these babies are not physically the same size as an adult, and their brain capacity is smaller than an adult does not mean that drugs do not affect them the same way they affect an adult. Some of these withdrawal effect include insomnia, restlessness, depression, fatigue, extreme irritability and in addition they might suffer from violent diarrhea. "Drug withdrawal in a newborn infant constituted sufficient evidence of neglect and abuse... Although the personhood of the fetus was not officially recognized, the child does have a legal right to begin life with a sound mind and body." (Pursley 2)

Another act preformed by the drug addicted pregnant women which can negatively affect the fetus is they tend not to seek prenatal care. Due to the fact that these substances are illegal many fear the law. Consequently only "70% of perinatal cocaine crack users participate in prenatal care." (Pursley,1) This is in comparison to the 91.2% of all pregnant women who seek prenatal care. (CDF 87) I feel that this is clearly mistreatment of the fetus therefore child abuse.

A final reason why this is child abuse is because a double standard is created between children and adults. If an adult is caught selling drugs to another adult he or she will be prosecuted legally, but when a mother takes drugs, she in a way is dealing drugs to the fetus. This deal between the adult and fetus worse than the deal between two adults, because the adult chooses to buy the drugs, while the fetus is forced to take the drugs. The adult should be prosecuted for child abuse, the same way that any adult would be prosecuted for dealing drugs. This shows that "This society still regards the lives of children less than it regard the lives of adults" (Romero 2).

Babies born addicted to drugs or with complications due to the mothers drug problem should be considered child abuse. It is no different than beating a child, and the same precautions should be taken. Lack of prenatal care withdrawal symptoms and death or severe disabilities is enough to constitute abuse in itself but what about the use of an illegal to do this damage, No one has ever addressed that issue. As I have mentioned an adult administering drugs to another adult will be prosecuted legally. What if an adult administered drugs to a child, What kind of legal problems would that cause? No what if it were an unwilling child? Couldn't we at the very least say that some legal action should be taken?


Farr, Kathryn, Fetal Abuse and the criminalization behavior during pregnancy.., Vol. 41, Crime and Delinquency, 4/1/95 pp 235, www.elibrary.com

Pursley-Crotteau, Suzanne-Stern, Phyllis, creating a new life: Dimentions of temperance in prenatal cocaine crack users.., Vol. 6 Qualitive Health Reasearch, 8/1/96 pp350.www.elibrary.com

Romero, James D., Fear and Ignorance Seed a Bitter Harvest; Crime: Time and again, abandoned babies are found in dumpsters or at the sides of roads. The parents are oftren young, poor, sacred and unaware of their option., Los Angeles Times, 02-09- 1997, pp E-3 www.elibrary.com

The State of Americas Children. Children's Defense Fund. Washington D.C.: 1996

This paper was prepared in 1997 for a colloquium facilitated by Stephen Wright, instructor for the Advocates for Children program, part of the College Park Scholars community at the University of Maryland, College Park.

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