in America should be seriously concerned about a recent court decision
that convicted a 24 year old Regina McKnight of Conway, S.C., of
homicide by child abuse for killing her unborn fetus by smoking crack
cocaine and sentenced her to 12 years in prison .
Women in America who are pregnant and members of families planning to
have children should be seriously concerned by this legal
decision. As you read the following news analysis of the McKnight
Case and the complete article published in the New York Times that
follows, remember that scientific research has validated three
major findings regarding the treatment of addiction that were not
even mentioned in this case:
Punishment Doesn't Stop Addicts From using Drugs:
Punishment or threat of punishment will not deter addicted women who are
addicted from using drugs. Addiction is a brain disease that
creates overwhelming biochemical cravings.
Instilling A Fear Of Punishment Can Hurt Women & Unborn Children:
Fear of punishment can have three paradoxical effects: It can
intensify the craving for alcohol and drugs; it can motivate dishonesty
with their physician during prenatal visits; and it can cause women to
stop prenatal care to avoid detection and punishment. It will also
Medical Intervention For Addiction Works Better: Medical
interventions for addicted mothers have been proven to reduce substance
abuse in pregnant women and lower birth problems in addicted
mothers. Effective medical intervention programs are based upon
proper prenatal care administered by a medical team that has been
trained to identify substance abuse, intervene in the addiction process,
and refer to non-punitive treatment that is monitored in conjunction
with other interventions. Legal intervention are only used when
other attempts at interventions have failed. The primary goal is
to help the woman and her unborn child by treating the addiction, not by
punishing the addict.
These facts were never presented to a jury or publicized in the
media. Without this the above information it only took the jury
fifteen minutes to convict Regina McKnight and sentence her to
twelve years in prison for killing her unborn child.
Here are the reported facts in the McKnight case:
McKnight was eight and a half months pregnant when she delivered the
stillborn baby in May 1999.
The media demonized McKnight as a drug-crazed cocaine addict who
murdered her unborn child. They did not present the public with
accurate information about the nature of addiction or the effectiveness
of medical intervention and treatment in stopping drug use during
The media did not discuss the serious implications this case has for all
women in America, not just those who abuse drugs.
The medical experts who testified could not confirm that McKnight's
cocaine use was the cause of her still birth. Four doctors
testified at McKnight's trial and gave differing opinions as to whether
her addiction to crack caused the baby's death.
No other woman has ever been prosecuted for the death of their
fetus. Previous attempts have been thrown out by the courts
because of the many possible reasons for stillbirths. In most
cases there is no way to clearly identify that drug abuse caused the
This ruling was made possible by a 1997 South Carolina Supreme Court
precedent that upheld the conviction of a woman who had been charged
with child abuse for using cocaine during her pregnancy. The court
ruled that a viable fetus was considered a person under the state's
criminal code. The ruling was the only one of its kind in the country.
The precedent established by the McKnight case does not restrict those
"harmful substances" to cocaine or other illegal drugs.
The precedent can easily be expanded to include beverages containing
alcohol, prescribed psychiatric medications including antidepressants,
and the use of other medications for the treatment of other illnesses
that could endanger the fetus.
McKnight's conviction creates a precedent that could subject all women
having still births to criminal investigation for homicide and risk or
prosecution and incarceration if they used any substance during
pregnancy that could have been harmful to the fetus including legal
prescription drug or other medication.
The precedent puts additional burdens on pregnant women who are
physically or psychiatrically ill and require medication during
pregnancy. Addicted and mentally ill women are especially
vulnerable, but so are women with other physical illnesses making
difficult medication decisions during pregnancy.
This precedent expands police power into the private lives of women and
their doctors to an unprecedented and dangerous degree. Having a
still birth is an emotional trauma for all women. Require that all
women having still births to submit to a homicide investigation will
increase this emotional trauma and create fear of the legal system that
could adversely affect the health of the mother and child.
Although on the surface this decision seems to protect unborn
children from drug-crazed addicted mothers, the potential consequences
to the rights and liberties of women and families could be
devastating. As with any legal precedent, we need to be
concerned about the law of unintended consequences. We need
to think about the potential implications to the freedom and civil
rights of all people and think of how the legal precedent could be used
as a basis to develop oppressive laws that do more harm than good.
All people of good will, especially women should be seriously concerned
about the McKnight Case and it's long-term consequences to women and
families in America.
The following is the New York Times Article by David Firestone