Thursday, September 23, 2004

Prosecutor Pushes for Legal Protection of Fetuses

County prosecutor pushes for legal protection of fetuses
By Casey Santee - Journal Writer

POCATELLO - To protect unborn babies from drug addicted mothers, Bannock
County Prosecutor Mark Hiedeman wants Idaho law amended at the January
2005 legislative session to include fetuses under the definition of
children.

According to the state's current injury to a child statute, a child is
simply defined as a person under the age of 18.

"Legislators need to define what a child is," Hiedeman said.

He added that South Carolina is the only state to successfully prosecute
a mother for endangering her unborn baby with drugs.

But the American Civil Liberties Union doesn't share Hiedeman's opinion.

Jack Van Valkenburgh, ACLU of Idaho executive director, said prosecuting
mothers who have addiction problems will discourage them from seeking
prenatal care.

"We think prosecuting (pregnant mothers) is a bad, counterproductive
idea," Van Valkenburgh said. "Those who most need to see a doctor will
avoid doing so, because they'll fear being reported and arrested."

Hiedeman disagrees.

"If we protect children from abortion after the first trimester, why not
protect them from controlled substances?"

He said women who abuse drugs aren't likely to see a doctor anyway.

However, Hiedeman acknowledges there is a problem with prosecuting
pregnant women from harming their unborn babies.

"I'd like to protect fetuses from people taking controlled substances,
but then again, is it any of my business?" he said. "Alcohol
hurts unborn children too, but it's legal. And what about cigarettes?"