Pregnant women can legally indulge in behaviour that could severely damage their unborn infants.
On September 13, Mr. Justice Kerr of Manitoba’s Court of Appeal overruled a lower court’s order that a pregnant woman who sniffed toxic chemicals be sent to an addiction treatment program against her will. Twaddle said there was no legal basis for infringing on the woman’s liberties, either to protect the woman from herself or to protect her unborn child.
The 22-year-old woman cannot be identified because she has three children in custody of Winnipeg Child and Family Services (WCFS). Two of her children are brain-damaged due to her solvent-sniffing addiction.
The case was brought forward by the woman’s concerned family and WCFS. They felt the woman was not fit to take care of herself or her child.
Lower court judge Mr. Justice Perry Schulman had written in a non-binding addendum that the fetus has the right to protection once the mother has decided to bear it.
The appeal court ruled that since the woman was mentally competent, she could not be coerced to take treatment against her will, and that, according to the Supreme Court of Canada, the unborn child is not a person and therefore has no legal rights.
But while ruling out judicial in intervention, Twaddle kept the door open for legislative intervention. “An extension of child protection law to yet unborn involves moral choices and a balancing of a mother’s rights against those of her future child.”
Anna Desilets, Executive Director of Alliance for Life, said the appeal court’s decision highlights the need for legislation to “protect a preborn child at risk of abuse.”
In a positive twist to the case, the woman in question appears to have kicked the glue sniffing habit. She has not sniffed solvents since and an ultrasound showed her unborn child to be problem free.