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Arguing Abortion
Abortion A-Okay, But Don't You Dare Drink While Pregnant

Welcome to legal bizzaro land, where abortion is legal but drinking alcohol while pregnant is a crime. The Telegraph reports that a council in North West England is trying to secure compensation for a child born with “foetal alcohol spectrum disorder” because her mother drank often during the pregnancy. Initially a tribunal agreed that the child was entitled to compensation, but an upper tribunal overturned that ruling. Now the council is taking the case to the UK court of appeals in hopes of restoring the initial judgment in favor of the child. More:

Neil Sugarman, a managing partner at GLP Solicitors in Greater Manchester, who is handling the case, told the paper: “Sadly, we act for many, many children who have been damaged by excessive alcohol intake during pregnancy. We were approached by a local authority with responsibility for a child very badly damaged as a consequence of foetal alcohol spectrum disorder.

“They considered making an application under the criminal injuries compensation scheme because they thought there was an argument that the child had been damaged by being victim of a crime. The crime being the birth mother carrying on drinking knowing that it could damage the child.”

It’s amazing that these cases are happening in England, whose 1967 law legalizing abortion was one of the least restrictive laws in Europe. If the higher court rules in favor of compensation, it would then be hard to argue that abortion is OK—surely a couple of snoots full of bubbly are less harmful to the fetus than abortion. (The upper tribunal judge was at least consistent on this score, arguing that the fetus is not entitled to compensation because it was not a person at the time.) In fact, if this goes through the law would create an incentive for women who drink while pregnant to have an abortion. That way you don’t have to pay compensation to the kid later for blighting his or her prospects in life by drinking. Talk about a “victimless crime.”

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  • rheddles

    it would then be hard to argue that abortion is OK

    By whom? The only person with standing would be legally dead making the case moot.

    And foetal alcohol syndrom is far from a few snoots of bubbly. Shame on you.

    • Andrew Allison

      I agree that there’s an enormous difference between a few snoots of bubbly and causing fetal alcohol syndrome. But that has absolutely nothing to do with whether drinking by a pregnant woman has any relevance to the legality or otherwise of abortion.

      • rheddles

        Concur except to the extent that both are reprehensible.

        • Andrew Allison

          My point was, and is, that confused thinking can only engender confusion. I would happily concur with the argument that smoking, drink and other pleasures indulged in by a mother-to-be are irresponsible. The question is, are they criminal?
          Abortion is a whole different can of worms. Is it reprehensible to abort a foetus diagnosed to have fetal alcohol syndrome, Down’s syndrome, or some other disease which will guarantee misery for both the child and its parents?
          My own view is that it’s a choice the parents have the right to make, and live with. Is it reprehensible to allow a minor to abort a child without the knowledge or consent of her parents? IMO, yes. The list goes on. There are irreconcilable differences of opinion on abortion. Fortunately, the founding fathers provided a mechanism to deal with this problem called State’s Rights. IMO, the Feds and the Supremes, should stay away from irreconcilable issues.

      • Corlyss

        If the reason for the ruling is protecting the fetus, then that calls into question why other practices like abortion are permitted. Being European to the extent of their social policies, I seriously doubt they’ll allow themselves to be cornered by anything as trivial as logical consistency.

        • Andrew Allison

          There is no ruling; the discussion is about the merits of a TBD suit which has been filed. A finding that a mother-to-be may not engage in an activity which might affect the foetus would be nonsensical in the sense that it would make smoking, drinking, many medications, speeding, etc., etc., and, of course, abortion illegal.
          I’m afraid I’m going to have to refer you to the hypothetical Mrs. TT for correction of your reflexive contempt for Europe and its inhabitants [grin]. I’m pretty sure that I can find two equally stupid decisions by US policy-makers for every European one you hypothesize. Can we agree that the ACA c–k-up would be hard to top?

          • TommyTwo


            Whoa! Does that make me the hypothetical grandfather of our host?!

            [Cf Mead’s grandmother, civility in comments.]

          • Andrew Allison

            Hypothetically, you can be anyone you wish and, based on what we know of the late Matriarch, that wouldn’t be a bad choice. But I wasn’t suggesting that Corlyss was being incivil, merely prejudicial :<)}

          • Corlyss

            I was speaking of ruling hypothetically, as in, if they ever get around to deciding the case.

            Alas, I fear nothing can correct my reflexive contempt for Europe and most of its post WW2 policies, esp. the EU. They think too well of themselves for the amount of trouble they and their -isms have caused. They want more humility. Until then, I’ll be the swaggering Texan I am.

            I’m a Western culture chauvinist, so you got nothing on me in that department.

            I’m pretty sure you shouldn’t limit yourself to two stupid decisions by US law makers. I usually find 6 before breakfast, and 4 of them are likely to impulses to “harmonize” US laws with those of Western Europe, which many lawmakers consider our public policy betters. That’ll be a cold day in He*l*l when that happens.

            I had occasion to used c**k up just an hour ago, talking about our city council’s agenda for tomorrow evening. 🙂

          • Andrew Allison

            A follower of the philosophy of the Red Queen I see ;<)}

    • Corlyss

      “The only person with standing would be legally dead making the case moot.”
      Usually true, but in the US if the case is likely to be repeated, the courts will take it in the interest of establishing a legal precedent to control future behavior.

  • Andrew Allison

    It appears that the legal “profession” in Britain has been taking lessons its utterly amoral US counterpart. Drinking is not presently a crime in either country. Unless or until drinking by a pregnant woman is made a crime, rather than an utterly irresponsible activity, this is nonsense.
    Drinking versus abortion is a red herring: to evaluate this we would need to arrive at a decision as to whether an impaired child is better or worse off than a dead one, a decision which might engender a certain amount of controversy.

  • Anthony

    For all of the recent focus on abortion, this blog has steered clear of the strongest way to decrease abortions, which is to promote contraception. If professor Mead was looking at this from a pragmatic vantage point, he would have focused on this from the beginning. Perhaps his religious views prevent him from doing this.

    Also, a fetus that has been aborted, especially at the very early stages of pregnancy, will not suffer nearly as much as a person who has been made severely disabled for life due to exposure to alcohol in the womb. This point would seem to be obvious.

    • Andrew Allison

      You’re right, of course, that Prof. Mead’s religious beliefs color his thinking on this subject. In his defense, he’s made no secret of the fact. As to contraception, I think it’s been pretty thoroughly encouraged — up to and including their utterly reprehensible (IMO) provision to minors without the knowledge of their parents.
      The issue of when a fetus achieves person-hood is what’s causing so much trouble in the abortion debate. Regardless of individual opinion or belief, the societal consensus today is ability to survive outside the uterus, or roughly 23 weeks (see e.g. Brutally put, before viability abortion is no different from hog slaughtering. Post-viability, it’s a completely different story; we must then deal with the entirely different issue of under what circumstances can the taking of a human life be justified.
      Let me make clear that I acknowledge and respect the opinions of those who believe that person-hood begins at conception, but they are manifestly not consensual.

  • free_agent

    I’d like to see more background on what is happening with the money. The referenced article isn’t clear, but it looks like the official action is that the child is suing the mother for damages. The council seems to be pushing this action because the compensation can then partially offset the council’s expenses caring for the child. So the council’s motives are clear, it wants budget relief for the expenses it is paying. It’s not clear how the mother has enough money to make it worth the bother. I wonder if she got a big lottery payout and the council wants to snatch it. If the mother had a regular income that was worth attacking, the child would unlikely to be in foster care.

    • William Ockham


    • free_agent

      Hmmm, this is deeper than it looks. The State does have an interest in preventing people from disabling others and forcing the State to pay for their chronic care, and also being able to recover such costs from the people who cause such damage (or more usually, their insurers). Normally this is implemented via personal-injury torts: The State sues on behalf of the injured person. But in this case, that mechanism isn’t available, since the injured person isn’t legally a person.

      This leads to the perverse situation where if the perpetrator (the mother) had aborted the fetus, she would have escaped this liability. But that does correspond to the situation the State is in: If she’d aborted the fetus, the State wouldn’t be on the hook for millions of pounds of care expenses.

  • Boritz

    The only story I have ever heard that is in the same league as this one is attributed to Border Patrol agents stationed on the southern border. The story goes that if an agent drew his gun, fired, and wounded a suspect there followed a mound of paper-work, hearings, cross-examinations, questions, more questions, and perhaps eventually a resolution of some kind.
    If the suspect was killed rather than wounded, then there were few questions and it was wrapped up pretty quick(ly).

    • free_agent

      Well, as a general rule if the only person live at the end is yourself, there’s nobody to contest your claim that it was self-defense. Both Joan Little and George Zimmerman got off.

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