The crack baby myth

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Author: Alanna Gomez

Have you been given this scenario to justify abortion before?

“What about a baby whose mother is addicted to crack cocaine and will be born with an addiction to crack? Would you rather that baby suffer horribly and have a terrible life?”

How do you respond? Usually, I reply with something like the following:

“No, of course I wouldn’t rather have the baby suffer. No one wants a baby to suffer. However, I wouldn’t kill a child as a solution to her potential suffering. Shouldn’t we always seek to eliminate suffering- not the person who is suffering?” Or “Do you think there are ways we could help the baby without killing her?”

We help people in need, not kill people in need.

I often hear the crack baby scenario from high school students, leading me to wonder where they encounter all these poor children born to mothers with terrible addictions.  I was surprised to learn from an article in the Globe and Mail that this scenario, popular in the imaginations of today’s teenagers, came from a myth promulgated in the 1980’s.

In that decade, there was public outcry about the devastating situation of babies born to crack addicted mothers. Pictures of teeny, “crack-babies” undergoing withdrawal-like symptoms after birth were widespread. The fate of these children was deemed void of hope.

This prediction is now recognized as a myth because it turns out the fate of the children born in this situation is not a life full of unimaginable suffering. Relatively recently, a researcher at the University of Maryland had a review published in Pediatrics which summarized the findings of 27 different studies following the lives of these “crack-babies” into their teenage years.  The studies did not find any severe outcomes for children whose mothers had used cocaine during their pregnancy, although it seemed that they sometimes functioned slightly lower than their peers as an adolescent, for example, achieving slightly lower test scores. Their development and well-being was much more affected by their family environment, which is something we actually can help to improve. The worries about their futures were largely exaggerated and not based on good evidence.

Many children do start off disadvantaged in life and this is a tragedy, but it is no argument for killing children. The seed of potential rests within these disadvantaged children, and given proper care, any child can overcome the challenges placed on their path towards thriving. Our society wouldn’t tolerate the slaughter of children in foster care who are struggling with the effects of their parent’s poor choices, so why would we kill those same children simply because they still reside in the womb?

The myth of the crack babies just underlines the point pro-lifers have been trying to make for years—the circumstances of your conception and birth do not have to seal your fate. People have an amazing ability to overcome significant obstacles and achieve things that smaller-minded people declare impossible.  Even if things look grim, we can never predict what will or will not happen in someone’s future. A child born in desperate circumstances can live a happy, productive life as an adult—unless we kill her before she gets a chance.

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