Kentucky Supreme Court Rules Fetus Cannot Be Considered Separate Person

The Kentucky Supreme Court ruled yesterday that a fetus cannot be legally separated from the pregnant woman carrying it, and thus cannot be treated as a separate legal person. In the case, Ina Cochran v. Commonwealth of Kentucky (PDF), Cochran was indicted for first-degree wanton endangerment after both she and her newborn child tested positive for cocaine in December 2005. The Kentucky Supreme Court found her charge to be in contradiction to the Maternal Health Act of 1992 and dismissed her indictment. According to the opinion of the court, the Maternal Health Act of 1992 explicitly reads, “punitive actions taken against pregnant alcohol or substance abusers would create additional problems, including discouraging these individuals from seeking the essential prenatal care and substance abuse treatment necessary to deliver a healthy newborn.” Therefore, pregnant women who abuse substances should not face punishment outside of that which a non-pregnant person would sustain. National Advocates for Pregnant Women, the organization largely responsible for advancing the defendant’s case, called the court’s opinion a reinforcement of “the importance of Kentucky’s public health approach to the issue of drug use and pregnancy.” According to the group, the decision “protects the civil and reproductive rights and health of all women in Kentucky.” Although Cochran’s wanton endangerment charge was dropped, her indictment for “being a second-degree persistent felony offender” withstands.


Kentucky Supreme Court 6/17/10; National Advocates for Pregnant Women 6/17/10

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