WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on May 26 let South Carolina continue prosecuting women who use crack cocaine or other illegal drugs while pregnant.
The justices turned away arguments by two imprisoned women that the state should not be allowed to use its child-endangerment law to punish pregnant women for conduct that could affect their fetuses. The controversy focuses in large part on the same thorny question present in the divisive national debate over abortion: Is a fetus a person?
The South Carolina law makes it a crime to "refuse or neglect to provide the proper care and attention" so that a child "is endangered or is likely to be endangered." The state's Supreme Court has ruled that a viable fetus - one able to live outside the uterus - is a child under the law, and has upheld its use against pregnant women.
Meanwhile anti-abortion protesters from North Carolina lost a Supreme Court challenge to a federal law that protects access to abortion clinics. The court turned away the protesters' argument that the 1994 Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act discriminates against abortion opponents. The protesters said Congress overstepped its authority to regulate interstate commerce when it passed the law.
The federal law bans the use of force, threats, or blockades to interfere with access to reproductive health care, including abortions. Several federal appeals courts have upheld the law, and each time the Supreme Court has declined to review those rulings.