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Drinking While Pregnant Could Become a Crime in England

A landmark case could soon decide that moms drinking while pregnant are criminally responsible for what happens to their children.

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Smoking will still be okay. Shutterstock

By Bryan Le

02/24/14

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The UK Court of Appeal will soon hear a case that could set precedent over the criminalization of excessive drinking during pregnancy. In the landmark case, lawyers will argue that a six-year-old girl is actually the victim of a crime committed by her mother, whose pregnant drinking resulted in the girl having brain damage - a risk the mother was aware of.

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome has seen a 50 percent rise in the UK in the past three years, with 313 recorded cases of exposure to alcohol in the womb in 2012 and 2013. The Department of Health has reported that one in 100 infants are born with alcohol-related disorders.

While the landmark case has the potential to criminalize binge drinking during pregnancy, many believe such a law doesn't go far enough and that drinking any amount while pregnant should be illegal.

“[The law] should be to abstain from alcohol throughout pregnancy. You can't make it a criminal offence if you are still legally saying this is a safe amount to drink or you can drink," said Sue Brett, the adoptive mother of Glenn, a 15 year old born with FAS who lives with disabilities and has the mental age of a four-year-old. "It needs to be clear from the start that you can't drink."

Health experts have said that complete and total abstinence from alcohol is the only way to ensure the safety of the unborn child. “If you avoid [drinking], that's the safest route,” said Dr. Raja Mukherjee, a psychologist and expert in fetal alcohol syndrome. “That doesn't mean that people who've drunk a little bit have harmed their child, most people won't have done, but if you want to guarantee safety and you want to guarantee no risk then no alcohol is the best way forward."

But not all are in agreement. Susan Fleisher, founder of NOFAS-UK, an organization dedicated to raising awareness on the impact of alcohol during pregnancy, said there are many things that could be done to prevent FAS, but does not believe criminally prosecuting pregnant mothers is one of them. “Women can't be prosecuted for something they don't know about," Fleisher said. "To be fair, women who are alcoholics, who have an issue with drinking, should be given support and should be given information so they know there's a chance they could harm another life."

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