Door Swings Open For More Legal Intervention

FETAL endangerment cases may open the door to arrests of women for a variety of legal activities - not just drug abuse while pregnant, experts say. Walter Connolly, a lawyer for the National Association for Peri-natal Addiction Research and Education, says a prosecutor on a TV talk show that he also appeared on remarked at one point that ``he would not hesitate to prosecute women for acts that could harm the fetus, such as diet, exercise, work habits, sex, smoking, and drinking.''

In another aspect of this privacy issue, there is concern about the rising number of court-ordered caesarean sections, ``Doctors are seeking and obtaining court orders to force women to undergo dangerous surgery in the name of fetal rights,'' says Lynn Paltrow, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union. ``In a case in Washington D.C., as a result of the caesarean, the baby died within two hours, the woman two days later, and the caesarean was listed as a contributing factor.''

If the state has the right to protect the fetus by limiting a woman's activities, what would stop the state from also requiring pregnant women to take drugs, Ms. Paltrow wonders. Drugs to help during pregnancy - such as DES - were thought to prevent miscarriage, she says, but were later found to be a significant health risk.

``Medical knowledge changes. So 20 years ago, a woman who refused to take her DES as prescribed and a glass of wine to relax her, could end up in jail,'' Paltrow says. ``Now we know that's the exact opposite of what they're saying. We need to be careful about turning doctors' orders into law.''

Medical ethics expert Bonnie Steinbock says women have worked hard to gain control over the management of their pregnancies. ``We've moved away from the idea that `doctor knows best,' she says. ``If you say women are going to be criminally charged for refusing to obey doctors' order, this issue of fetal rights becomes a cover for `doctor knows best.'''

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