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House of Representatives
Session of 2019 - 2020 Regular Session


Posted: May 6, 2019 10:30 AM
From: Representative Dawn W. Keefer
To: All House members
Subject: Substance Abuse During Pregnancy
In the near future, I will introduce legislation to make it clear that exposing a child to alcohol or a controlled substance during pregnancy, to the point where the child tests positive at birth or is diagnosed with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD), is considered under the law to be exactly what it is: child abuse.

Affliction with neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) or FASD is a painful and difficult way to begin life. The disorders are characterized by a combination of physiologic and neurobehavioral signs that include sweating, irritability, increased muscle tone and activity, feeding problems, diarrhea, seizures, and increased risk of sudden infant death syndrome. Infants with neonatal abstinence syndrome often require prolonged hospitalization and treatment with medication. Long-term effects include issues with cognition, delays in speech and language development, memory and attention problems, intellectual disability or low IQ and poor judgment and reasoning skills.

Although it should be obvious that any parental behavior that causes such acute and long-term problems for a child is clearly abuse, this legislation has been unfortunately made necessary by a recent PA Supreme Court decision. Overturning the Superior Court, our Supreme Court last month held that drug abuse during pregnancy can’t be considered child abuse because there is no “child.” This reasoning completely ignores the LATER HARM caused to the child, which is specifically included in current law and was the basis for the lower court’s decision.

Unfortunately, the law can’t reverse the harm already caused to the child, but it can help ensure that child protective services will become involved and, at the very least, monitor the situation after birth. Please join me in sponsoring this imperative legislation.

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Introduced as HB2208