No one reading the newspapers over the last few days could have missed the disturbing headline that “Mums to be who drink could be branded criminals” or the many similar ones.
Were it true it would be shocking indeed. But what is rather more shocking is that it is not. The truth is that the ‘landmark’ case before the Court of Appeal that the headlines refer to (in which entitlement to compensation is being sought on behalf of a severely damaged foetal alcohol syndrome 7 year old child) will not directly affect the criminal law. It is a civil case.
The headlines were not necessary. It seems the papers were hoodwinked. And if so who by?
Step up Britain’s leading abortion service, the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) and its sister organization Birthrights (Protecting Human Rights in Childbirth) who have decided to intervene in this case on behalf of radical feminism. They are the guilty parties.
Before the hearing, Ann Furedi and Rebecca Schiller – their respective bosses – told the assembled press that the implications of the case were ‘deeply worrying’. They asserted that, “we should take very seriously any legal development that calls into question pregnant women’s bodily autonomy… (They) deserve support and respect, not the prospect of criminal sanction for behaviour which would not be illegal to anyone else.”
Well, we certainly can’t have that apparently.
On planet BPAS, even if the symptoms of foetal alcohol spectrum disorder are cruel and lifelong, we must not sanction or constrain reckless (to the mother herself and to her unborn child) alcohol and drug consumption if it interferes with her bodily autonomy – even though such a mother might be out of her mind and have renounced anything like autonomy through drink and drugs a long time before.
No, not even in cases like this (and apparently there are 80 similar actions ready to be launched, such is the growing problem and cost of FAS) where the seven-year-old in question suffers retarded growth, facial abnormalities and intellectual impairment. Not even when the child's life and the lives of those responsible for looking after her will be one long struggle. Bodily autonomy must always be the higher principle – or let’s be honest, the prior ‘right’.
It’s not a great argument when you think about the lifetime implications of the mother’s behaviour on her child and indeed on herself. But hey, it’s her bodily autonomy so hell, why not let her go to hell in a handcart and maim her unborn child at the same time?
No wonder BPAS and Birthrights needed to include those weasel words in their statement: "the prospect of a criminal sanction for behaviour that would not be illegal for anyone else".
This is the line that BPAS put out knowing just how it would be taken up - by the 'anti nanny state' press - as another example of personal freedom falling foul of an overweening and interfering State
It is however false. The idea that this ruling will result in a whole new tranche of criminalised behaviour is not true and BPAS knows it.
Birthrights (who have been doing the bulk of the legal work for BPAS on this) have been keen to assert this case would establish a legal precedent which could be used to prosecute women who drink while pregnant. However hidden in their blog they also admit that:
"Any decision relating to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority's payment of compensation does not have direct legal consequences for the interpretation of Section 23 in the criminal law."
What they are referring to here is Section 23 of the Offences Against the Person Act.
And there you have it.
The reason why they’ve put out this nonsense about criminalising drinking during pregnancy is because this case threatens their entire belief system and raison d’etre. For this case may decide - horror upon horrors - that an unborn child can be considered a person for the purposes of the Offences Against the Person Act which, although it will not directly affect the criminal law, will set a legal precedent that they don't like.
If they were up front about this then they would have to argue that compensation ought not to be awarded to a child who is seriously disabled as a result of heavy drinking during pregnancy.
But this would hardly bring them a welcome or helpful Daily Mail headline. Not if it read: "BPAS abortionists and Birthrights human rights lobbyists team up to deny a 7-year-old disabled girl compensation".
No wonder they felt the need to purvey their spin about criminalisation in order to confuse the issue and influence the Court’s decision.
So Jeremy Hunt please note – for it appears that your views on this do seem to hold weight - this emphatically is not a case about criminalising alcoholic mothers, for three reasons:
1. As stated above it's a civil, not a criminal case. This will not directly affect criminal interpretation of Section 23.
2. A criminal conviction does not need to be secured to award Criminal Injuries Compensation.
3. Even if it were to affect Section 23 (which it doesn’t), prosecution of mothers for drinking during pregnancy would depend on the Crown Prosecution Service deciding it would be in the public interest to charge alcoholic mothers.
Should this happen, hopefully common sense and compassion would prevail and a much needed abstinence based alcohol treatment order would be given – ideally for rehabilitation in a residential centre - which would be in the best interests of both mother and child.