Smoking While Pregnant Now a Crime?

A Florida woman ordered by a court to stay on bed rest in a hospital she wanted to leave is still waiting for a ruling on her appeal. Samantha Burton had a miscarriage three days after a judge ordered her to remain at the hospital. But the Associated Press updated the story with the new information that Burton smoked during the first six months of her pregnancy and the doctor had told her to stop.

What if any role smoking played in the miscarriage is probably hard to tell, but it's clear now that it may have played a role in her doctor's disapproval. And it reinforces the asymmetry in the case: Smoking is just as harmful for an adult as it is for a fetus, but no one orders you to stop smoking and resorts to the court system when you refuse. Adults have a right to refuse medical treatment, but if this order stands, women don't have a right to refuse any as long as they're pregnant:

The judge ruled the best interests of the fetus overrode Burton's privacy rights, but (her attorney) David Abrams disputes that. He notes the Florida Constitution, unlike its federal counterpart, has an explicit and strong privacy right, which the state Supreme Court has said guarantees a competent person the right to "choose or refuse medical treatment."

"If you apply the best interest of the child standard, the woman becomes nothing more than a fetal incubator owned by the state of Florida," Abrams said.

That's what's so scary about this case. The AP rounded up the few other cases around the country similar to this one. In one, an appeals court ruled that a lower court should not have ordered a C-section. Some of the other cases resolved themselves before they reached an appeals court, like that of a Pennsylvania woman who safely delivered an 11-pound baby after her doctors tried to order her to get a C-section because the baby was too big. She had safely delivered six children who all weighed about 12 pounds at before before. So, maybe she knew what she was doing.

--Monica Potts

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