Does drug use, during pregnancy,
constitute child abuse in PA?

Brief Background:

In December 2017, the Superior Court of Pennsylvania issued an opinion related to a Clinton County woman giving birth to an infant, who was born withdrawing from drugs the woman consumed while pregnant. Upon the infant's birth and demonstration of withdrawal symptoms, the child welfare agency in Clinton County filed a Dependency Petition alleging the infant was without proper parental care or control and also that the infant was "a victim of child abuse." The child welfare agency alleged that the mother "caused bodily injury to the child through a recent act or failure to act."

A trial court disagreed and that triggered the county agency to file an appeal with the Superior Court of Pennsylvania. That court issued its opinion in December 2017 stipulating, in part:

"We conclude that a mother's use of illegal drugs while pregnant may constitute child abuse under the CPSL if CYS establishes that, by using the illegal drugs, the mother intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly caused, or created a reasonable likelihood of, bodily injury to a child after birth. We therefore vacate the order and remand for further proceedings."

The Clinton County woman then filed a Petition for Allowance and such petition was granted by the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania. The court then directed the Clinton County woman (appellant) and other interested parties to file briefs by May 3rd.

To learn more about the case and questions that have made their way to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, please review:

  • [ PDF ] April 9th edition of the Children's Justice and Advocacy Report - Pennsylvania Supreme Court will take up arguments about whether drug use during pregnancy can constitute child abuse.
  • [ PDF ] April 25th edition of the Children's Justice and Advocacy Report - Pennsylvania counties received 1,548 General Protective Service reports involving infants affected by prenatal drug exposure in 2017

By May 3rd, the following briefs were filed with the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania:

  1. [ PDF ] Brief for Appellant
  2. [ PDF ] Brief of Amici Curiae submitted by Frederick M. Henretig, M.D., Hallam Hurt, M.D., Juvenile Law Center, KidsVoice, Philadelphia Department of Human Services, and Support Center for Child Advocates
  3. [ PDF ] Brief of Amici Curiae submitted by the American Civil Liberties Union of PA
  4. [ PDF ] Brief of Amici Curiae submitted by National Advocates for Pregnant Women and Community Legal Services of Philadelphia
  5. [ PDF ] Brief of Amici Curiae submitted by The Drug Policy Alliance

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