OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Unborn children are included in the definition of a “child” for purposes of prosecuting child neglect cases, an Oklahoma appeals court ruled on Thursday.
The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals overturned a lower court ruling in a case involving Kearline Datara Anderson of Rogers County who was charged with child neglect after state prosecutors alleged she used illegal drugs while she was pregnant.
“We think it’s a victory for children,” said Rogers County District Attorney Matt Ballard. “Even an unborn child has a right to be free from illegal drug abuse by a parent.”
Ballard said the Anderson was in her third trimester when she showed up at a hospital emergency room under the influence of drugs.
An attorney for Anderson declined to comment on the ruling.
A Rogers County judge had determined the state’s child neglect law was not applicable when the victim of neglect was an unborn child.
The appeals court reversed that decision and returned the case to Rogers County for further proceedings consistent with its ruling.
Gabriela Cano, who sits on the board of Oklahoma Call for Reproductive Justice, said the ruling will harm women and children.
"It is wrong and harmful to criminalize pregnancy outcomes and criminalize mental health and substance use disorders," Cano said in a statement. "A substance use disorder is not a crime but an issue of public health. If we truly want to protect children & families, we need to address poverty, lack of accessible & quality healthcare, institutionalized racism & police violence, trauma, and homelessness. Instead we’re creating additional harm & barriers through stigma, fear, and punishment.
"With this ruling, pregnant people will avoid seeking healthcare for fear of being imprisoned and, during a global pandemic, for fear of being killed," Cano said.