Woman Charged with Child Abuse for Drug Use During Pregnancy

Authorities in Suwannee County are going after mothers who take drugs while they are pregnant.

Teresa Piloto says she sat side by side her classmate at Suwannee-Hamilton Technical Center.

But, she says she had no idea that 24-year-old Penelope Fortescue was taking drugs while she was pregnant.

Piloto said, "She had her moments when you would be like, are you okay? But, she always seemed to be having so much fun and paying attention to the classes and always getting good grades. I honestly couldn't believe it when I heard that she was on drugs."

Suwannee County Lt. Wayne Musgrove says after an anonymous caller told him Fortescue's baby girl was born December 18th hooked on drugs, he says Fortescue admitted to taking oxycodone during her entire pregnancy.

Fortescue was charged with child abuse on February 22nd.

This is the first case of it's kind in Suwannee County.

Lt. Musgrove says deputies will now start investigating all children who are born addicted to drugs, and charges could be filed in those cases as well.

Lt. Musgrove said, "I hope that this is a case that will have ramifications throughout Florida, is that a selfish act by the mother of the child. To me, the important thing is the child."

Lt. Musgrove says Fortescue said she crushed the pills and then snorted them.

Suwannee County resident Brenda Cuppernell says she never did drugs while being pregnant, but says she can somewhat relate to Fortescue.

Cuppernell said, "I've been on drugs so I do know what it's like to be there. I don't want to judge someone that is there. So you can't say you're bad because you are there because I have been there, and it's a difficult place."

Lt. Musgrove says Fortescue would take her seven year old daughter with her to buy the drug.

Lt. Musgrove says that child and the baby girl are now in the custody of the baby's father.

He says that the baby had to be weaned off the drug in the hospital for about a month, but is said to be doing fine so far.

He says authorities are working on a similar case in Suwannee County at this time.

The following is a statement from The Public Policy Director for American Civil Liberties Union of Florida (ACLU), Courtenay Strickland:

“Studies indicate that when pregnant women fear they will be prosecuted for their drug use, they do not seek critical prenatal care, isolating them in their drug use rather than helping them have healthy pregnancies and healthy babies. Leading public health groups – including the American Medical Association, the American Public Health Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Nurses Association – have opposed punishing pregnant women for their behavior because it can deter women from seeking the prenatal care they need to have healthy pregnancies and healthy babies. Further, it is generally bad public policy to infringe on a person’s privacy. If this were upheld, what would stop the state from arresting pregnant women for drinking alcohol or coffee, or smoking cigarettes? Where will we draw the line?”


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