Last month, the Alabama Supreme Court ruled that the state’s chemical endangerment of a child law also includes protection for unborn children. This was hailed as a landmark victory by Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange. The Court ruled that “the plain meaning of the word ‘child’ in the chemical endangerment statute includes unborn children.” Attorney General had this to say:
The Court has ratified our argument that the public policy of our state is to protect life, both born and unborn. It is a tremendous victory that the Alabama Supreme Court has affirmed the value of all life, including those of unborn children whose lives are among the most vulnerable of all.
The Court made the ruling as it upheld the convictions in Coffee and Colbert counties of two women whose use of illegal drugs while they were pregnant caused their unborn children to suffer exposure to those drugs, according to Strange’s statement. The two women had been charged with chemically endangering their children – exposing a child to a controlled substance, a chemical substance such as precursors for manufacturing drugs, or drug paraphernalia.
One case the Court ruled on was that of Hope Ankrom and her newborn son. Both mother and child tested positive for cocaine when the child was born on January 31, 2000, according to the statement. Medical records documented Ankrom’s substance abuse during her pregnancy. She pleaded guilty and was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment, which was suspended, and she was placed on probation for one year.
The other case involved Amanda Helaine Borden Kimbrough’s son, T.K., who was born prematurely on April 29, 2008, and died 19 minutes later. An autopsy determined his death was caused by “acute methamphetamine intoxication.” Kimbrough pleaded guilty and was sentenced to ten years in prison.
The rulings in these cases are very important. It will be interesting to see how the Supreme Court deals with this issue when it is presented in civil cases. Based on an earlier ruling by the Court, I believe an unborn child’s death will be grounds for a civil action for wrongful death when there is fault on a tortfeasor involved.