Drug addiction is a serious problem, especially when the drug addict is pregnant. Using illegal drugs while pregnant can cause many complications to the baby including brain damage, premature birth, low birth weight and even fetal death. Many states recognize this as an act of child abuse on the unborn fetus subject to criminal and/or civil liability.
Previously, Tennessee was the only state with an actual law that recognized illegal drug use while pregnant as a criminal offense. It allowed a person to be charged with aggravated assault and face jail time. However, this law was repealed in 2016.
Regardless, some courts have found this to be a criminal act. For example, both the Alabama and South Carolina Supreme Courts have upheld convictions of criminal child abuse where drug use is involved during pregnancy.
The following 24 states, along with the District of Columbia, view illegal drug use during pregnancy as child abuse:
- North Dakota;
- Rhode Island;
- South Carolina;
- South Dakota;
- Washington; and
If someone uses illegal drugs while pregnant in any of these states, they may face civil penalties ranging from termination of parental rights to civil commitment. Currently, only Minnesota, South Dakota and Wisconsin find drug use during pregnancy to be grounds to force commitment to a treatment facility.
If you or someone you know is pregnant and using illegal drugs, it is important for you or that person to seek legal advice. If you live in a state where a pregnant person taking drugs can face charges of child abuse, then you need to contact a local criminal lawyer. A lawyer could also explore treatment options with you to protect the baby’s health.