Amanda Kimbrough, a mother in Alabama, tested positive for methamphetamines after the birth, and 19 minutes later, death, of her son Timmy, Jr. Following this, her daughters were removed from her custody, and she was charged and convicted with chemical endangerment of a child, a Class-A felony due to the death of the child.
Problems during and after childbirth are happening around the country at an alarming rate. According to the American Pregnancy Association, every year 221,000 women use illicit drugs during pregnancy, 757,000 women drink alcohol while pregnant, and 458,952 children are born without adequate prenatal care. These are problems America has the tools and, more importantly, the obligation to fix.
A mother whose negligent behavior, which applies to all areas discussed above and more, can be proven to be directly responsible for the death of her unborn child must, if humanity has any semblance of decency, be reprimanded for her actions. Many charges would be appropriate in these situations, ranging from murder in the case of death to child abuse, neglect and assault charges in addition to other minor charges in the case of harm to the child. Should no damage be done, but negligent behavior be proven, endangering the welfare of a child should be levied.
This action stems from the ideal that a person is considered alive, with all their natural rights, from the moment of conception. The moment of birth is not when development, nor sentience, nor emotion begins. It is only another development on the journey of life.
The child undergoes changes during birth. That said, the being that is the child before birth and the being that is the child post-birth are not significantly different. In fact, they are so nearly identical that it is arbitrary to call birth the moment where life begins. The most major changes that occur in a child at the moment of birth are the beginning of breathing, changes in liver and gastrointestinal function, and physical detachment from the mother. These are not changes large enough to say they mark the beginning of life. Some would argue the separation from the mother makes the child its own unique being for the first time. With this line of thought, we must also conclude conjoined twins are only one life-form until their separation – a ludicrous idea.
Should any of the damages listed above be inflicted on a human being after birth, there would be no doubt as to whether charges should be filed against those responsible. So why then are we not protected while in the womb from the person who has the most power over our wellbeing? We do not suddenly become human at birth, but come into being at the moment of conception.
With this in mind, not only mothers should be held responsible for harm done to the fetus. Should anyone assault the mother or force her into any action which would harm the child, they too will be subject to punishment under the law. These punishments would serve to ensure children are provided the proper care. In addition, they would protect the child from anyone, mother or otherwise, who would choose to harm him.
Obviously, the penalties levied must not further damage the possible well-being of the child, but so long as the child is looked after, any punishment legal in the American system would be appropriate, depending on the severity of the crime. Serious offenders of fetal injustice should have their children removed from their care post-birth and placed in an environment more conducive to proper health and development.
For laws enforcing these principles to be realistically feasible, government education and aid for proper child care must be drastically expanded. In a country as fortunate and advanced as America, there is no excuse for our government to leave a child uncared for. We must found a system where it is nigh impossible for a child to be neglected. Mothers, fathers, and caregivers must be given a comprehensive education about the care of a child, both prenatally and after birth. This teaching should have tests and checks in place to make sure the students are learning and retaining all the knowledge. These classes should be mandatory for parents. In addition, complete government sponsored care must be available for free to parents and children. Help must be provided to struggling parents overwhelmed by the difficulties of pregnancy and child rearing.
I believe it should be the government’s job to ensure parents and children are prepared. This is a lot of responsibility to put on a body of governance, but governments exist for the wellbeing of their people, no matter the age. The American system has been suffering from numerous shortcomings in health care for years, and is in need of overhaul in these areas and many others.
With a system like the one I have outlined in place, parents would have everything required for the proper care of a child. This leaves no excuse should the child not, whether in the womb not, be properly cared for. Of course with any system there must be oversight.
It is clear not all parents are ready for the care of a child when pregnancy occurs, which is why the adoption system in America must be enlarged. This solution does not, however, account for the problem of world overpopulation that America will undoubtedly be influenced by in the future. The world can only sustain so many people. To preach abstinence as a solution ignores human nature. We are built to procreate and people will never stop having sex, often without birth control.
Thus, in order to care for every human life, but to also avoid overpopulation, birth control, and education about it, must be made readily available. Every American deserves to have proper access to multiple safe devices to avoid pregnancy. Anything which prevents conception is acceptable. While it saddens me to say this, accidents still will occur, and in order to prevent overpopulation, devices which kill the child post-conception but pre-cognition must be allowed. Human beings are imperfect creatures, and creations such as the morning after pill, take this into consideration and solve the problem as best it can be solved in our imperfect reality. Such forms of birth control should be readily available for women who are the victims of rape, sexual assault, and incest. I do not have the knowledge required to make the distinction of the exact moment when processes of the mind begin. It is the responsibility of scientists who understand far more about the course of human development to decide precisely at what point cognition begins. It is at this point where we must draw the line when it is acceptable and when it is not to end the life of a child.
We are all guaranteed life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Under life falls care for our health, especially when we are not capable of providing it for ourselves. Someone must be there to ensure the meek are cared for. Most parents will gladly take on this responsibility, but not all. Only the force of law remains to ensure all will do what is right. As law exists to ensure we act properly in regards to larceny, homicide and driving, so too must law enforce justice when care of another human being is in question.