the Right to Abuse the Unborn
PHILLIP E. JOHNSON
A 1984 CALIFORNIA COURT DECISION provides a good example of the appropriate role and inherent limits of the criminal law in maternal child abuse cases. The defendant in People v. Pointer1 adhered to an extremely rigorous macrobiotic diet and imposed it upon her young children, ignoring the protests of their father and the repeated advice of physicians that the diet was permanently damaging the health of the children. When the younger child was near death a doctor finally called the police, who took the infant boy to the hospital where his life was saved by emergency procedures. During the enforced hospitalization the mother surreptitiously brought her son unsuitable food despite warnings not to do so and continued to breast-feed him even after being told that her milk contained high levels of sodium that endangered his health.
The boy was placed in a foster home. The mother was allowed to visit and used the opportunity to abduct the child because she did not like the idea of his "getting fat." She took him and her older boy to Puerto Rico, where she continued to provide both with an inadequate diet until authorities brought the family back to California. There medical examinations showed that the older brother was seriously underdeveloped and the younger one had suffered severe growth retardation and permanent neurological damage.
The mother was convicted of willful child endangerment, a felony punishable by up to four years imprisonment, and placed on probation. The conditions of probation were that she serve a year in the county jail; that she participate in an appropriate counseling program; that she lose custody of the children and have no unsupervised visits with them; and that she not conceive another child during the five-year probationary period. The mother appealed the last condition