MUSKINGUM COUNTY, Ohio (WTRF) — An Ohio appeals court has ruled that it is legal for pregnant women to inject narcotics, including fentanyl, into their bodies.
In Muskingum County, several women were facing charges for abusing narcotics while they were pregnant. One woman even injected fentanyl into her body in a hospital parking lot right before she delivered her baby.
Now that woman will be freed from prison while the other women will not be prosecuted in the aftermath of this ruling.
Zanesville’s first baby of 2023 was born addicted to fentanyl and methamphetamine, spending more than a month in the NICU to detox from the substance and setting the tone for the rising seriousness and selfishness of drug abuse in Muskingum County, according to a press release by county prosecutor Ron Welch.
Welch says that child was not the first to suffer such a cruel beginning to life and unfortunately, not the last. Just 10 days later, a second mother passed her addiction on to her newborn baby.
Both mothers were scheduled into court Monday afternoon to plead to the same first-degree felony charge of corrupting another with drugs.
At the time of the second child’s birth, the mother tested positive for benzodiazepines and methamphetamine. The baby’s umbilical cord tested positive for methamphetamine. The baby was the fourth child removed from that mother’s custody.
The second mother admitted to law enforcement that she used methamphetamine while pregnant.
When the first mother birthed her child, the baby’s umbilical cord tested positive for fentanyl, methamphetamine and amphetamines. Both she and the child’s father tested positive for methamphetamine and fentanyl twice in the 10 days following the birth of their child.
When interviewed, the first mother admitted to injecting herself with the drugs while pregnant, thus facilitating the crime of corrupting another with drugs.
Monday morning, however, Fifth District Court of Appeals Judges Craig Baldwin (R) (Licking County), Andrew King (R) (Delaware County), and William Hoffman (D) (Stark County) ruled that it is not a crime for a woman to inject herself with drugs on her way to deliver her baby. Because of that ruling, neither woman will be held accountable for the suffering their acts later caused to their own children.
The law reads that “No person shall knowingly do any of the following: By any means, … administer a controlled substance to a pregnant woman … or cause a pregnant woman to use a controlled substance, when the offender knows that the woman is pregnant or is reckless in that regard.”
In April of 2022, Muskingum County jurors found Tara Hollingshead guilty, and determined that she did knowingly “administer a controlled substance to a pregnant woman.” This was after Hollingshead admitted that she injected herself with fentanyl in the hospital parking lot. Later, a child was born addicted to fentanyl. It was Hollingshead’s second born-addicted child. Hollingshead’s case was believed to be the first time in Ohio that the law has been applied to a pregnant woman whose corruption with drugs was self-administered.
Judge Baldwin, writing the opinion, added an element to the law passed by the General Assembly. In criminal law, an element means something that must be present for a crime to occur. The element that Judge Baldwin added was that the administration of drugs must be to a pregnant woman by another person. By adding the requirement that the perpetrator be someone different from the drug-abusing mother, the court wrote its own version of the law, and decriminalized previously prohibited behavior.
Previously, the Muskingum County Prosecutor’s Office and Judge Kelly Cottrill agreed that, had the legislature meant to make it legal for a pregnant woman to inject herself with fentanyl, methamphetamine, or other drugs they would have used the word “another” when defining the elements of the crime.
The short-term result of this decision will involve suspending prosecutions against four women this year alone who have been charged with poisoning their bodies while pregnant, including the two previously scheduled for plea Monday. It will also include the immediate release of Hollingshead from prison.
This case joins several others decided in recent years where the Courts have continuously struck down methods of addressing the pre-natal drug abuse that is overwhelming our state, and responsible for flooding victims into hospital neonatal intensive care units, children’s services dockets, and later contributing to the cycle of addiction.
For instance, in 2021, a woman from Seneca County was abusing crack while pregnant. In that case, although she tested positive for cocaine in Seneca County, and the Ohio Supreme Court found that testing positive for cocaine was evidence of possessing cocaine, former justice Maureen O’Connor (R), found that no evidence was shown that she used the crack within Seneca County, for purposes of a possession of drugs charge. That decision is now joined by the Fifth District Court of Appeals as Ohio’s Courts continue to stand in opposition to every effort to stem the epidemic of drug addicted babies in this state.
The Muskingum County Prosecutor’s Office will be appealing the Court of Appeals’ decision to the Ohio Supreme Court as part of its ongoing mission to provide protection to children of addicted parents, no matter when the abuse begins. In the meantime, Welch says the Ohio General Assembly could provide additional clarity to the statute by passing legislation that even more clearly prohibits women from poisoning their bodies while pregnant.