News >> Browse Articles >> Crime News


Court Rules Pregnant Women Can't Be Charged for Abusing Drugs, Alcohol

Lexington Herald-Leader (Lexington, Ky.)

June 18, 2010

Jun. 18—FRANKFORT — Women cannot be criminally charged for abusing alcohol or drugs during pregnancy, the Kentucky Supreme Court ruled Thursday in a case that has generated national attention.

In a 5-2 decision, the court ruled that the state’s Maternal Health Act of 1992 expressly precludes women from being charged with crimes if they ingest drugs or alcohol during pregnancy.

At issue is whether police and prosecutors were correct in charging Ina Cochran with first-degree wanton endangerment after she gave birth to a child who tested positive for cocaine in 2005.

Cochran’s lawyer moved to have the charges dismissed, and a Casey Circuit Court judge agreed. Prosecutors appealed to the state Court of Appeals, which ruled that the charges should be allowed under Kentucky law.

Lawyers for Cochran had argued that the General Assembly also made it clear in 2004 that women should not be prosecuted for harming their unborn children.

That year, lawmakers passed a fetal homicide statute, which allowed prosecution of a third party for killing an unborn child. In the bill, lawmakers said a pregnant woman could not be charged with harming her unborn child.

The court, in its opinion, wrote that it was clear the legislature never intended pregnant women to be charged. “It is the legislature, not the judiciary, that has the power to designate what is a crime,” the opinion said.

The Maternal Health Act of 1992 states that “punitive actions taken against pregnant alcohol or substance abusers would create additional problems, including discouraging these individuals from seeking the essential prenatal care.”

But in a dissenting opinion, Justice Daniel Venters said the General Assembly never intended to create a blanket immunity for pregnant women. Venters also noted that Cochran was not charged while she was pregnant.

“Because the indictment came after her baby was born, it in no way discouraged her from seeking prenatal care and it in no way deterred her from treatment she might need to deliver a healthy baby,” Venters said.

Chief Justice John D. Minton was the other dissenting justice.

The case has garnered national attention from women’s rights groups and national medical associations, who say criminalizing drug abuse of a pregnant mother will only damage the child.

Women who think they might be prosecuted for drug addiction will not seek prenatal care, might abort their children for fear of being prosecuted or will not deliver their children in a hospital, they argue.

But many police officers, prosecutors and even family members of addicted mothers have argued that more should be done to deter pregnant women from causing lasting and sometimes debilitating damage to their children.

Larry Cleveland, the commonwealth’s attorney for Franklin County, has two cases pending against women who ingested alcohol or drugs during their pregnancies. Cleveland said Thursday that he had not seen the court’s opinion but would follow it and probably drop those charges.

“We will follow the decision,” Cleveland said. “Even if it means that the state will have to pay for care for these children for the rest of their lives.”

Rep. Richard Henderson, D-Jeffersonville, filed a bill during this year’s legislative session that would have allowed women to be charged with substance endangerment of a child — a felony — if the child is born with alcohol or unprescribed controlled substances in his or her system.

Henderson’s bill was given a hearing after he amended the measure to change the charge to a misdemeanor, but the proposal was never called for a vote.

Henderson said he probably will file the proposal again.

“The bill will resurface in some form,” he said. “I am a firm believer that we need to get treatment for these women … but there is a place for the criminal justice system.”

“This is not Roe vs. Wade. This is about protecting lives that are already beyond those choices,” Henderson said. “My intent is not to penalize the woman but to protect the child.”

To see more of the Lexington Herald-Leader, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to

Copyright © 2010, The Lexington Herald-Leader, Ky.

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

For reprints, email, call 800-374-7985 or 847-635-6550, send a fax to 847-635-6968, or write to The Permissions Group Inc., 1247 Milwaukee Ave., Suite 303, Glenview, IL 60025, USA.

  • Me_max50


    about 4 years ago


    I think that there should be a law that UNBORN has a right. If the Parent is going consum any kind of illegal substance then they should be convicted as so and the parent should then be COURT ORDERED to have a Hysterectomy and jail time.. So that she can't have anymore children..

  • Evgeni_nabokov_max50


    about 4 years ago



  • 1211120858_max50


    about 4 years ago


    The Kentukcy legislature should be charged with aidding & abetting and facilating aggravated assault and or murder of innocent children. What LOW LIFE POS the Kentucky legislature is

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    about 4 years ago

    The legislature is the one responsible here and that is where the responsibility rests. The Supreme Court can only interpret the law. I am absolutely astounded at the types of people that must occupy the KY state legislature! They should really be ashamed of themselves. That law is incentivizing cruel and EVIL behavior!

  • He-man_max50


    about 4 years ago


    If they took the word Kentucky out, I would have thought it was California. Way to go Kentucky!! Now are you going to take care of all the deformed and retarded children that are produced because mommy can't stay off the crack pipe or the bottle?

  • Spartan_cops_max50


    about 4 years ago


    Unreal and inhuman........

    KY Supreme Court, your pathetic!!

  • Anonymous-killer-whale-232189_1__max50


    about 4 years ago


    I didn't have to read the entire story to realize that Kentucky women are no longer responsible for their actions, as long they are pregnant AND abusing drugs/alcohol. Like PSD_Team_Leader said, who will protect the unborn child if the mother is absolved of responsibility ?!?!? As nicely as I can put it, it's an incredibly stupid decision !!!!

  • Ba_old_glory_max50


    about 4 years ago


    Call me puritanical, I don't care. This is a freakin abomination!!!

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    about 4 years ago

    so in otherwise, let the woman ruin a life before the child is even born. We give all the rights to the mothers, none to the child in the womb.
    Who protects the rights of the unborn?

  • Dressed_up__2__max50


    about 4 years ago


    Get the law changed! Sounds like even when changes to the law are proposed they arent acted on by the legislature. How about the citizens voting some at least semi-intelligent people to the state gov't.

  • Pug_max600_max50


    about 4 years ago


    Protect the children. I would not expect a pregnant druggie to seek prenatal care. If you stoned you are not thing about your unborn baby only your next drink or hit on the pipe. Immunity breeds impunity and is not the answer.

  • Ktky_2510_max50


    about 4 years ago


    Dont think all of Kentucky is this stupid, cause we're not. We just have stupid-asses in office.

  • 45089_396847393722850_1055776862_n_max50


    about 4 years ago


    That judge or those judges should be disbarred!!!!

  • 45089_396847393722850_1055776862_n_max50


    about 4 years ago


    You've got to be freaking kidding me!!!!

  • John_groh_max50


    about 4 years ago


    They need to make some changes to the laws in that State.

PoliceLink School Finder

Save time in your search for a criminal justice degree program. Use PoliceLink's School Finder to locate schools online and in your area.

Get Info

* In the event that we cannot find a program from one of our partner schools that matches your specific area of interest, we may show schools with similar or unrelated programs.

Recent Activity

sdfgh234 submitted the article: "CDL>> Atletico Madrid vs Real Madrid Watch Live Str...", 13 minutes ago.
sdfgh234 submitted the article: "Copa|Envivo>> Watch Atletico Madrid vs Real Madrid ...", 35 minutes ago.
shrivishk posted: "a couple of 30-year-old washed", about 1 hour ago.
shrivishk posted in: "a couple of 30-year-old washed", about 1 hour ago.
CHAPE received the quiz result of "You handle danger with Courage", about 3 hours ago.