Saturday June 16, 2012

By DENISE LAVOIE

AP Legal Affairs Writer

BOSTON (AP) -- Women who give birth without medical assistance will not be subjected to criminal liability, the highest court in Massachusetts ruled Friday.

The Supreme Judicial Court, ruling in the case of a Milford woman who gave birth to a nearly full-term baby whose body was later found in the trash, said the state has adequate criminal laws prohibiting murder, most late-term abortions, and the neglect and abuse of children to protect viable fetuses and living children "without the need to subject all women undergoing unassisted childbirth to possible criminal liability."

"Imposing a broad and ill-defined duty on all women to summon medical intervention during childbirth would trench on their ‘protected liberty interest in refusing medical treatment,"' Justice Barbara Lenk wrote for the court in the unanimous opinion.

The court reversed the involuntary manslaughter conviction of Allissa Pugh, ruling that because prosecutors had not proved that the baby was born alive or that calling for medical help would have saved his life, they lacked evidence that Pugh's failure to call for help was the cause of the baby's death. The infant's body was found in January 2007 as haulers were collecting trash in Pugh's neighborhood.

Pugh claimed she believed she was only three months pregnant and possibly having a miscarriage when she gave birth at home. She said that when she felt the baby's foot first, she believed it was a breech baby and thought she should hasten the baby's birth. A lower court judge found she recklessly injured the baby trying to speed the delivery.

The SJC said it was not an intentional killing.

"Where there is evidence that a pregnant woman acts with the requisite malice in killing a viable fetus during childbirth, she may be charged under existing criminal laws that punish intentional behavior. Here, however, the defendant was charged with unintentional death of her viable fetus," the court said.