The Alabama Supreme Court ruled 8 to 1 that the word “child” includes “an unborn child,” in a case about a pregnant woman who used cocaine and endangered her unborn child.
The law is said to also “furthers the State’s interest in protecting the life of children from the earliest stages of their development.”
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Alabama Chief Justice Roy S. Moore wrote in his concurring opinion that “an unborn child has an inalienable right to life from its earliest stages of development.” He also noted “I write separately to emphasize that the inalienable right to life is a gift of God that civil government must secure for all persons – born and unborn.”
The court decision on April 18 was in reference to Sarah Janie Hicks v. State of Alabama. Hicks had been charged in 2009 with violating Alabama’s chemical-endangerment statute, which in part says that a “person commits the crime of chemical endangerment” by “knowingly, recklessly, or intentionally causes or permits a child to be exposed to, to ingest or inhale, or to have contact with a controlled substance, chemical substance, or drug paraphernalia,” a felony.
Hicks was charged with using cocaine while pregnant. the court document read that her child, “J.D.,” tested positive for cocaine “at the time of his birth.”
Hicks pleaded guilty to the crime but also “reserved the right to appeal the issues.” Hicks got a three year suspended prison sentence and was placed on probation.
Hicks appealed to the Court of Criminal Appeals in Alabama, saying that because the chemical-endangerment statute did not specifically use the words “unborn children” or “fetuses,” the law was ambiguous and could not have applied to her unborn child.
The Appeals Court ruled against Hicks, stating that “the plain language of 26-15-3.2 [chemical-endangerment statute] was clear and unambiguous and that the plain meaning of the term ‘child’ in [the statute] included an unborn child or viable fetus.’”
Hicks then petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court in 2012 to review the Appeals Court decision. Last Friday’s ruling affirmed the judgment of the Court of Criminal Appeals.
In conclusion, eight of the nine Alabama Supreme Court justices agreed that: “Consistent with this Court’s opinion in Ankrom [a similar chemical-endangerment case], by its plain meaning, the word ‘child’ in the chemical-endangerment statute includes an unborn child, and, therefore, the statute furthers the State’s interest in protecting the life of children from the earliest stages of their development.”