Punishing Prenatal Alcohol Abuse: The Problems Inherent in Utilizing Civil Commitment to Address Addiction

New laws seek to protect unborn children from fetal alcohol syndrome by committing or even imprisoning, women who consume alcohol during their pregnancy. These laws fall afoul of the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Constitution. Although civil commitment or imprisonment of expectant mothers who drink seems effective at first blush, it is likely that it would deter pregnant women from seeking appropriate medical treatment for fear of being incarcerated. Further, such laws cannot reverse the damage the mother has already done to her unborn child. Ultimately, the only way to protect the rights of expectant mothers and their unborn children is to follow a strategy of education and treatment aimed at stopping prenatal alcohol addiction before it starts

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