It is up to lawmakers, not the courts, to protect unborn children from potential harm caused by their mothers, Canada's Supreme Court ruled Friday in a case involving a glue-sniffing mother.
Under Canadian law, a fetus has no legal status until birth. In a 7-2 decision, the high court said it will not expand existing laws to allow mothers to be ordered to protect fetuses."The common law does not clothe the courts with power to order the detention of pregnant women for the purpose of preventing harm to her unborn child," Justice Beverley McLachlin wrote on behalf of the majority. "The changes to the law sought on this appeal are best left to the wisdom of the elected legislature."
The case had been watched closely by groups engaged in the debate over abortion, which is legal in Canada.
One of the main anti-abortion groups, the Campaign Life Coalition, denounced the decision, saying the high court "has refused to recognize the basic human rights of the child in the womb." The group urged Parliament to act.
The Canadian Abortion Rights Action League said the decision was a victory for "the fundamental liberties of the mother" and advised lawmakers to stay away from the issue.
The case involved a Winnipeg woman who challenged being ordered into treatment for her glue-sniffing addiction. It attracted national attention and was viewed as a test of the rights of an expectant mother against those of her fetus.
The mother, identified publicly only as Ms. G., was five months pregnant with her fourth child in 1996 when Winnipeg's social services agency ordered her into treatment.
A Manitoba court upheld the agency's right to force her into a program, but the ruling was overturned by the provincial appeals court. The appeal court said it was up to politicians, not the courts, to change the law, and the Supreme Court upheld this ruling.
Since the case surfaced, Ms. G. 23, reportedly has kicked her drug problem. Her baby, William, was born in good health last December.