Pregnant narcotic users will face criminal prosecution under a new Tennessee bill, decried by women’s rights and health organizations.
Signed into law by Republican Governor Bill Haslam, the Tennessee bill allows women to be charged with assault if using narcotics during pregnancy and give birth to a child who is harmed or dependent on drugs as a result.
The governor signed the bill despite veto cries from women’s and health organizations nationwide.
Tennessee First To Pass This Law
A New York-based advocacy organization – The National Advocates for Pregnant Women – says that despite attempts by other states, Tennessee is the first to embrace this type of legislation. Women accused with this offense would face misdemeanor assault charges.
“In reviewing this bill, I have had extensive conversations with experts including substance abuse, mental health, health and law enforcement officials,” Haslam says. “The intent of this bill is to give law enforcement and district attorneys a tool to address illicit drug use among pregnant women through treatment programs.”
How This New Bill May Hurt The Babies And Mothers
Opponents of the bill were concerned only of harm coming to the children of those charged. They argue that women may not be seeking proper prenatal care due to fear of prosecution. Many also fear that new mothers may not seek help when infants begin showing signs of suffering from drug dependency due to the potential consequences.
According to the Haslam administration, those who seek and complete addiction treatment akin to our New York rehab programs during pregnancy, will avoid charges altogether.
Health care specialists have been quick to note that signs of dependency often only become apparent days or weeks after a newborn has left the hospital.
The bill has been called “dangerous” by the American Civil Liberties Union, stating that Haslam overlooked various veto cries, including many from health care professionals.
“Today the Tennessee governor has made it a crime to carry a pregnancy to term if you struggle with addiction or substance abuse,” says ACLU representative Alexa Kolbi-Molinas. “This deeply misguided law will force those women who need health care those most into the shadows. Pregnant women with addictions need better access to health care, not jail time.”
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