Woman will not face prosecution

An Altoona woman won’t face prosecution for allegedly overdosing while nine months pregnant.

“The office looked at it, and based on the law, we just can’t prosecute,” said Assistant District Attorney Russell Montgomery, when asked about charges against Miranda Weakland.

Weakland was arrested Aug. 15 and charged by Altoona police with aggravated assault of an unborn child, endangering the welfare of a child and recklessly endangering another person, charges stemming from a July 11 call to 911 after Weakland could not be roused after passing out in the passenger seat of a car behind her Fourth Avenue home.

According to court records, Weakland, who police said was 38 weeks pregnant, was allegedly seen at an Altoona convenience store “walking unsteadily throughout the store” and “nodding off at the counter while attempting to pay for items” a half-hour before the 911 call. After she was taken to the hospital, she underwent an emergency cesarean section. During the emergency surgery, her baby suffered a seizure and couldn’t breathe on his own, police said.

The baby was ultimately flown to Conemaugh Memorial Medical Center’s neonatal intensive care unit in Johnstown. A review of Weakland’s medical records allegedly showed several drugs in her system, two types of which she was not prescribed.

After spending nearly a week in jail, Weakland was released on an unsecured bond Aug. 21 as Blair County prosecutors looked into the charges, ones that according to Pennsylvania’s crimes code, couldn’t be filed against Weakland because she is the child’s mother, and the child wasn’t born yet.

Under the statute, aggravated assault of an unborn child can’t be applied to the mother of the child, and case law has established that recklessly endangering another person and child endangerment can’t be applied to unborn children.

Weakland’s charges were withdrawn in late August. Montgomery said the district attorney’s office wanted to file different charges, but there was nothing with which she could be charged.

Farah Diaz-Tello, an attorney with the New York-based National Advocates for Pregnant Women, said while no one advocates that women abuse drugs while pregnant, prosecuting women in cases such as Weakland’s actually does more harm than good because it deters women from seeking medical help, whether it be prenatal care or drug treatment.

“Clearly, no one is saying it’s a good idea for women to be doing drugs during pregnancy,” Diaz-Tello said, adding that it’s been the long-standing position of medical professionals, including the American Medical Association, American College of Pediatrics and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, that by exposing drug-addicted pregnant women to civil and criminal penalties if they seek medical treatment is detrimental to the health of both the mother and the child.

“Ultimately, it’s bad for women and bad for babies,” Diaz-Tello said.