Source:   Los Angeles Times 
Contact:  2132374712
Pubdate:  October 30, 1997 

Pregnant Woman Convicted for Drugs 
By Jesse J. Holland, Associated Press Writer   

COLUMBIA, S.C.Following up on a ruling that found a viable fetus is a
person covered by the state's child abuse laws, the state Supreme Court has
upheld a woman's conviction for taking drugs while pregnant. 

The court ruled 3/2 for the second time in as many years to uphold the
conviction of Cornelia Whitner, who gave birth to a baby boy with cocaine
in his blood. Ms. Whitner, whose son is living with relatives, was
sentenced to eight years in prison for child neglect in 1992 after her
newborn tested positive for cocaine. A judge freed her 19 months later,
saying child abuse laws do not apply to prenatal actions. 

South Carolina Attorney General Charlie Condon appealed Ms. Whitner's
release to the state Supreme Court, which upheld her sentence in July 1996. 

The court ruled that if a fetus can survive apart from its mother, it is a
child under child abuse laws. It was the first appellate court ruling of
its kind in the nation, state officials said. 

The American Civil Liberties Union and other groups asked the court to
reconsider. They argued the 1996 ruling violated South Carolina's right to
privacy laws because a woman could be punished for taking a pregnancy to
term but not for having a legal abortion. 

The court said those issues were not considered because Ms. Whitner's
lawyers did not include them in court documents, but the justices said they
would take the case again to resolve the questions for the future. 

The justices then shot down Ms. Whitner's privacy argument in Monday's
decision. "It strains belief for Whitner to argue that using crack cocaine
during pregnancy is encompassed within the constitutionally recognized
right of privacy," Justice Jean Toal wrote in the majority decision. "Use
of crack cocaine is illegal, period," Toal wrote. 

In the dissenting opinion, Justice James Moore wrote that the court's
decision makes pregnant women "potentially criminally liable for myriad
acts which the Legislature has not seen fit to criminalize." 

The ACLU likely will appeal the case to the U.S. Supreme Court, said Steven
Bates, the executive director of the ACLU's South Carolina chapter. 

Copyright Los Angeles Times