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Baton Rouge woman freed when judge dismisses feticide charge

Some pregnant women have medical conditions that make pregnancy risky. Others engage in unhealthy habits like poor diets, cigarette smoking, drinking alcohol or drug use. Fetuses and newborns may be harmed by a mother's neglect, but it's up to individual states to decide whether the behaviors are criminal.

A Baton Rouge woman who suffered from abdominal pains was admitted to a hospital in September. She was seven months' pregnant. An emergency cesarean section was performed when physicians failed to detect the fetus's heartbeat. The boy was stillborn.

The mother was in the hospital's intensive care unit when police came to interview her. She allegedly told officers she snorted cocaine before the birth, because the child's father had broken up with her.

The coroner concluded the stillborn death was a homicide caused by placental abruption, a condition that causes the placenta to detach from the mother's uterus. The official blamed the woman's cocaine use for the otherwise-healthy baby's death. Traces of cocaine were found in the fetus's system.

The mother was charged with second-degree feticide, a felony charge, and jailed. A district judge reviewing the case agreed the woman might be guilty of a crime, but the charge could not be feticide. Louisiana's feticide laws apply only to killings caused by someone other than the pregnant mother.

The 32-year-old defendant was released, as authorities searched for another charge that might apply. The woman's attorney said that state could cause a "firestorm" by arresting every woman who made poor choices during pregnancy.

The politically-sensitive laws that cover the rights of mothers and fetuses are under debate in several states, including Louisiana. Allegations, crimes and convictions are based on the laws that are currently on the books, not on shifting sentiments about the laws' fairness.

A crime cannot be committed, unless a law is broken. Police and prosecutors cannot bend laws to fit circumstances that appear to be criminal.

Source: theadvocate.com, "Feticide charge rejected by BR judge" Jim Mustian, Nov. 24, 2013

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