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Randomness from a 2005 graduate of The Moritz College of Law at The Ohio State University

 

Thursday, April 15, 2004

Tomorrow the topic being presented in my seminar is “Drug & Alcohol Use of Pregnant Women: Whose Problem is it? Our Forgotten Children.” Let me begin by saying I have no idea what position the presenter is taking, or exactly why certain information was provided to us.

When I first picked up the packet of information I thought this could be an interesting topic, ripe for discussion about what sorts of behavior ought to be criminalized. After reading the materials, I am feeling very disturbed, and not in the way you might expect. I began reading about the effects of drugs and alcohol on fetuses, and was predictably saddened by the descriptions and statistics. As I continued reading though, I found myself feeling very skeptical. Of course I don’t doubt the reality of fetal alcohol syndrome, but the statistics just seem a little off somehow. For example, on one handout, we are told that of Fetal Alcohol Effects (less damage than fetal alcohol syndrome) individuals between the ages of 12 and 51, 95% will have mental health problems, 60% will have “disrupted school experience”, 60% will experience trouble with the law, 55% will be confined in a prison, drug or alcohol treatment center, or mental institution, and 52% will exhibit inappropriate sexual behavior. Assuming these statistics are true, I would guess that the statistics would be quite similar if the alcohol factor was removed, and the statistics were solely compiled based upon individuals living below a certain income level. Later in the same handout, it says “More than 60% of prisoners are likely affected by alcohol in utero.” And what present of prisoners are affected by poverty? My point is, that by the time I finished reading these materials, I felt this uncomfortable feeling that attempts to criminalize alcohol use by pregnant women are really attempts to criminalize poverty.

The final handout, which I desperately hope is an attempt at showing a negative response to the problem, truly left me shaking. It was an article describing a woman in California who started a group that pays drug and alcohol addicted women to be sterilized. As I read it, it almost felt like it had to be a joke. How could this be legal? Some of her critics compare her to Hitler. I understand, and mostly agree with, this comparison but the criticism needs to go further. In her effort to eliminate the birth of children affected by drugs and alcohol, and to inhibit the reproductive freedom of their addicted mothers, she is preying upon an incredibly vulnerable population. If a drug addict or alcoholic, living in poverty, is offered $200 to be sterilized, she is likely to jump at the opportunity. Such an important decision should not be made because a woman needs money, probably for drugs or alcohol anyway. To offer such an opportunity to these women should be criminalized. I’m not sure if I would criminalize some of the other behavior discussed, but I would definitely send that woman to jail.
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