Pubdate: Sun, 17 Jun 2001
Source: Sun News (SC)
Copyright: 2001 Sun Publishing Co.
Author: Jeffrey Collins, The Associated Press


GREENWOOD - Brenda Peppers had already lost her daughter, born dead. In a 
coma after her labor, a crack-addicted Peppers struggled to live; doctors 
had to revive her four times in six weeks.

Peppers has not smoked crack since her recovery. But nearly two years 
later, prosecutors charged her with abusing her unborn child by taking 
cocaine while pregnant.

Peppers accepted a plea agreement at the time because she would only get 
two years' probation and could avoid the media attention of a trial. Now 
the 35-year-old Greenwood County woman is fighting the law she was 
convicted under because she thinks her battle can help other women.

Peppers' lawyer, C. Rauch Wise, will go before the state Supreme Court on 
Wednesday to ask justices to overturn their earlier decision that allowed 
prosecutors to charge women who take cocaine when their fetuses can live 
outside the womb.

Last month, an Horry County woman, Regina McKnight, became the first woman 
in the country to be convicted of killing her unborn baby through 
crack-cocaine use.

In his argument to the state Supreme Court, Wise plans to point out no 
other state has followed South Carolina's lead.

The Attorney General's Office will argue the same reasoning still applies 
from the court's 1997 decision.

The ruling said a viable fetus is considered a child and mothers could be 
charged with abuse if they took drugs once their unborn child could live 
outside the womb.

Punishing pregnant women for illegal drug use has been a sticky issue in 
South Carolina for more than a decade. In March 2000, the U.S. Supreme 
Court ruled hospitals cannot test pregnant women for drugs without the 
women's consent then turn the results over to police.

"The South Carolina Supreme Court stands alone among the 50 states in 
permitting the prosecution, conviction and punishment for child 
endangerment of pregnant drug users for ingesting substances on which they 
are dependent," San Francisco lawyer Daniel Abrahamson wrote in a friend of 
the court brief on behalf of seven national and state medical associations.

Supporters, including Attorney General Charlie Condon, say the law is part 
of South Carolina's efforts to protect unborn children.

Horry County's chief prosecutor said he tried McKnight on homicide by child 
abuse charges because she should have known better than to take drugs while 

"Why should a viable fetus, able to live outside the womb, be treated any 
different than a month-old infant?" prosecutor Greg Hembree asked.

Wyndi Anderson, the executive director of S.C. Advocates for Pregnant 
Women, said, "People across the country can't believe South Carolina can do 
this without providing a better network of drug treatment."
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