Drinking while pregnant has been called a “crime of violence” in the case of a woman alleged to have consumed a “grossly excessive” amount of alcohol during her pregnancy.
Lawyers for a council in the North West of England are seeking compensation for a seven-year-old girl known as child ‘CP’ with “growth-retardation” allegedly caused by her mother’s excessive drinking while pregnant.
The mother was described as drinking “an enormous amount” while carrying the child, including half a bottle of vodka and eight cans of strong lager a day.
John Foy QC, appearing for child CP told the Court of Appeals the amount of alcohol consumed by the mother amounted to between 40-57 units of alcohol a day, adding that she “was aware of the dangers to her baby of her excessive consumption during pregnancy”.
“She was reckless as to whether there would be hard to the foetus. She foresaw that harm might be caused but went on to take the risk,” he added.
Child CP was born with Foetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) a serious condition that can cause a children to experience restricted growth, facial abnormalities and learning and behavioural disorders, and the council responsible for her is seeking an award on her behalf under the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme.
The case could pave the way for pregnant women’s behaviour to be criminalised, according to the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) and Birthrights.
But Ben Collins, appearing for the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA) asked the court to reject the case, stating that there is a “conflict of ideas about what is or is not dangerous, not only in terms of drink but also in terms of smoking and food”.
Mr Collins asked whether “a pregnant mother who eats unpasteurised cheese or a soft boiled egg knowing there is a risk that it could give rise to a risk of hard to the foetus” might also find herself accused of a crime.
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) states in its guidelines that women should avoid alcohol altogether during pregnancy, or that if they do choose to drink, it should be no more than one or two units once or twice a week. One unit equates to half a pint of ordinary strength lager or beer, or one shot of spirits measured at 25ml.
It adds that getting drunk or binge drinking during pregnancy, defined as the consumption of 7.5 units or more on a single occasion, may be harmful to an unborn baby.
The NHS states that drinking heavily, meaning drinking more than six units of alcohol a day, throughout a pregnancy, can cause a baby to develop FAS.
Pregnant women are advised by the NHS to avoid eating raw or partially cooked eggs to avoid the risk of salmonella food poisoning; to only have milk that has been pasteurised or long-life milk, and to avoid mould-ripened or blue veined soft cheese due to the risk of infection with listeria, as it can lead to miscarriage, stillbirth or severe illness in a new born baby.
The Court of Appeals has reserved its judgement in the case of CP, and said the court will take time to consider its decision.
Additional reporting by PA