Tennessee: Don't Criminalize Pregnant Women!

  • By: Susan V
  • Target: Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and TN Legislature

Drug addiction is a health problem that should not be treated like a crime. Nevertheless, Tennessee just passed a bill that would charge women with assault or homicide for pregnancy complications connected to illegal narcotics use.

Of deep concern is that this bill is so broad it could end up being used to prosecute women for non-drug-related actions, or even worse, they could be blamed for any complication that occurs during pregnancy or childbirth.

Farah Diaz-Tello of the National Advocates for Pregnant Women says the bill “in no way” limits prosecution to women who are taking illegal drugs, and it could mean that any woman who miscarries or delivers an unwell child could be investigated, which is a cruel punishment, in itself, to any mother who has just lost a child or given birth to one with health issues.

On top of other problems with this bill, it is simply far too punitive to be effective. Just less than a year ago the same legislature passed a more appropriate Safe Harbor Act that offers rehab programs to pregnant drug abusers without threatening their parental rights.

The new bill, warns medical experts, will discourage women from getting the help they need.

Tell Governor Bill Haslam not to sign this punitive, draconian bill that would criminalize pregnant women!

We, the undersigned, say this new bill is far too flawed and harsh to help either mothers or their children.

Furthermore, as the National Advocates for Pregnant Women points out, it is so broad it could easily be misused to harass and punish any woman who miscarries or delivers a child with health issues. The advocacy group has also discovered that it does not limit prosecution to those women taking illegal drugs.

Because it is so broad, notes Farah Diaz-Tello, there is a high risk it could also be abused in a way that targets minorities. As she told Jezebel:

"I can almost guarantee that this [law] will be used disproportionately against African-American women because, even though we know that fewer African-American women than white women use drugs, they are more likely to be blamed for the outcomes of their pregnancies."

Also, according to Jezebel, the American College of Obstetricians Gynecologists (ACOG) has declared that the criminalization of substance abuse during pregnancy  is “contrary to the welfare of the mother and fetus.”

With the passage of the earlier Safe Harbor Act, it seems clear that the Tennessee legislature knows how to pass laws that are more effective and less draconian to deal with drug addiction during pregnancy. By passing this new bill it has shamefully bowed to pressure from prosecutors and law enforcement, rather than listening to advice of medical experts.

We request that Governor Haslam veto this punitive, ineffective and draconian bill and insist that the legislature stop trying to criminalize pregnant women!

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