The case of a Gaffney woman facing felony child neglect charges
after she and her newborn had cocaine in their bloodstream has
ignited debate on whether addicted mothers should be prosecuted.
Pamela Jane Cruz-Reyes of Gaffney was charged with unlawful child
neglect on Nov. 27 after she and her newborn tested positive for
cocaine. A magistrate Monday ordered her to have no contact with her
South Carolina Attorney General Henry McMaster contends the law is
clear: Taking cocaine is illegal and such conduct won't be tolerated.
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State Stands Alone in Arresting Women Who Engage in Risky Behavior During
It should have been among the most celebrated days of Regina McKnight's
She was to deliver her third child, a girl she'd named Mercedes, but the
5-pound infant was stillborn. An autopsy revealed traces of a cocaine
byproduct in the infant's blood.
Results were given to police, and McKnight was charged with homicide by
child abuse. That day she joined more than 100 women in South Carolina who
have faced criminal charges in the past 15 years for using cocaine while
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The S.C. Supreme Court's decision on a Conway woman's appeal of her 12-year
prison sentence could change the way pregnant women who use drugs are
treated in the state.
The court will hear arguments from Regina Denise McKnight of Conway on
Wednesday in Columbia. In May 2001, an Horry County jury convicted McKnight
of homicide by child abuse for using crack cocaine while she was pregnant.
Her stillborn baby girl, delivered May 15, 1999, had a byproduct of cocaine
in her blood. Prosecutors determined McKnight, who had a history of drug
use, had smoked crack cocaine while pregnant.
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Technicality Cited By S.C. Justices; Fetal Abuse Issues Remain Unchanged
The state Supreme Court overturned Brenda Peppers' conviction on charges
she harmed her child by taking crack cocaine while pregnant.
But Monday's ruling wasn't the complete victory the Greenwood County woman
The justices unanimously agreed to toss aside Peppers' guilty plea to
unlawful conduct toward a child because of a technicality, saying she only
agreed to plead guilty if her case could be appealed to the high court.
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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
Next week, the South Carolina Supreme Court will be asked to
re-examine a controversial ruling on pregnant women and substance
abuse. Back in 1997, the court ruled that expectant mothers who use
drugs can be convicted of child abuse or other crimes. Several women
have since face criminal charges after delivering babies that tested
positive for marijuana or cocaine. Critics say the policy is too
harsh and discourages drug-addicted women from seeking prenatal care.
NPR's Adam Hochberg reports.
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I read with concern your editorial, "Limits during pregnancy should be
defined in law" (May 23). While much of what is stated is true, the
conclusion, "The idea of declaring certain activities during pregnancy
to be illegal is a sound one," flies in the face of every leading
medical group to address the issues of pregnancy and addiction. Groups
ranging from the March of Dimes to the American Academy of Pediatrics
to the American Medical Association have all recognized that treating
any aspect of pregnancy as a criminal justice matter not only
threatens pregnant women, but will undermine the health interests of
fetuses and children.
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In your last issue you ran an excellent story about the policy in South
Carolina of using the criminal justice system to punish women who are
pregnant and using drugs ["Body Politics," Fall 1999]. The story ends
pointing to the possibility that the case will be used to undermine the
right to choose to have an abortion and to punish women for a range of
behaviors beyond drug use. Unfortunately, we now know those things are
actually happening in South Carolina -- and that women are being deterred
from health care as a result.
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I am writing in response to the March 15 article regarding a study linking
mothers who smoke cigarettes while pregnant and criminal behavior in their
children. Studies such as these without regard to social class, home
environment and other similar factors are highly questionable.
Publication of this article is reminiscent of the media hype on the
so-called "crack baby" that began in the 1980s and continues today. The
cocaine "studies" claiming to find almost universal harm were found to be
inconclusive or not based on empirical scientific research that must include
all factors affecting a child's health.
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - A South Carolina woman convicted of child neglect
because she used crack cocaine while pregnant wants a federal judge to set
her free from state prison so she can be with her three children.
Cornelia Whitner's case has become a rallying point for women's groups and
doctors who say jailing pregnant women with substance abuse problems
discourages them from seeking proper prenatal care. The policy is based on a
landmark 1996 state court ruling that a viable fetus can be considered a
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EASLEY, S.C. – Late in the afternoon of Feb. 5, 1992, the police chief, a detective and two social workers entered the maternity ward of Easley Baptist Medical Center and took custody of 3-day-old Tevin Dashuan Whitner.
Not finding the infant's mother, they left a notice on her hospital bed.
The next morning, police came back, arrested Cornelia Whitner and led her away handcuffed and weeping. She had smoked crack cocaine before going into labor and the drug was found in her newborn's urine. To authorities this was child neglect.
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South Carolina attorney general is enjoying his latest controversy
COLUMBIA, S.C. -- Pat Buchanan gazes approvingly from a framed photograph
on Charles M. Condon's office wall.
"To Charlie Condon," reads the inscription, "who is saving lives while
others prattle on about the rights of drug addicts."
Even without that endorsement of Condon's most disputed act as South
Carolina attorney general -- prosecuting pregnant crack cocaine addicts for
child neglect and even manslaughter -- the Republican prosecutor's
political ideals shine clear.
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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.
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In a ruling that runs contrary to every other state supreme court that has
addressed the issue, South Carolina's highest court this week upheld the
criminal prosecution of pregnant women who used drugs, finding that a
viable fetus is a "person" covered by the state's childabuse laws.
The ruling came in the case of Cornelia Whitner, who in 1992 pleaded guilty
to child neglect after her baby was born with traces of cocaine in its
system. Whitner, 33, of Central, S.C., a tiny town in the area of the
state, was sentenced to eight years in prison.
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