Legislating Motherhood.

A few posts down, a commenter took issue with the idea that ordered bed rest was unequivocally bad in the case of a woman who smoked in the beginning of her pregnancy, had problems, but wanted to leave the hospital because she had a job and two young kids. The doctor went to court, which ordered she stay at the hospital because the fetus was endangered. She is now appealing.

Weboy says:

As a feminist, I'm loath to suggest that judges should have this kind of control over women... and I think our attempts to micromanage how women act during pregnancy is coercive in the extremes... but ... but... it's the smoking that's hanging me up here, I have to admit. And I don't think the justified outrage of judges' ordering women around quite answers the questions raised about health risks related to smoking here. I wish it did, at least for me.

While smoking is a really bad thing to do while you're pregnant, you can't say it's absolutely deadly. If it were a generation of kids, including me, just wouldn't be around. Smoking increases the risk that you'll have a problem. And way too many things increase or decrease the chance you'll have a problem while you're pregnant. Doctors can advise pregnant women to stop smoking, just as they can advise women to take vitamins, gain or lose weight and eat fruits and vegetables. But do we really want to start interfering with what women do to the point where we have to split those hairs? Everything we do is irresponsible to someone, and that's where things get sticky.

Likewise, Jeff took issue with the fact that I mentioned that smoking was also harmful to the woman, Samantha Burton. It was an imperfect analogy, he said, because, "if you are doing something harmful to your children like feeding them poison, courts may put them in protective custody and you may be charged and convicted with crimes."

If he meant that literally, then yes, feeding your children poison is a crime. But feeding anyone poison would be a crime. If he meant it figuratively, then it's true that courts have intervened when children aren't being properly taken care of and fed poorly, like the case of a vegan couple convicted because they also fed their three-month-old daughter a vegan diet, and she died of starvation. Neglecting children to the point where they starve is a crime no matter what diet you feed them. And that was a case where the death of a living baby was caused by her parents.

The problem is, if you start equating that to what women do while pregnant, then you would have to overturn a lot of case law that separates a fetus from a living child and, well, we know where that would end up. If it was living, and could live separately, then we wouldn't be having this issue. (Unless you start regulating second-hand smoke around kids, in which case my lungs would be grateful but my parents would have been in jail.) Moreover, what's good or bad for children is in some sense subjective and changes from day to day. The most important thing to keep in mind is that smoking while pregnant is not a crime right now, unless you're ready to lobby your lawmakers to make it so, though I don't see how that would hold up, and this woman's liberty was taken away.

-- Monica Potts

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