Addiction in pregnancy criminalized by new Tennessee billNPR reports a new bill has been passed in Tennessee which would allow pregnant women who are addicted to illegal drugs, including both narcotics and prescription medications, to be jailed. The new pregnancy addiction bill, which has been met by criticism by some Tennessee doctors, has gained approval by both Republicans and Democrats in the state and is currently waiting for signature by the states governor.
At issue is the health of the babies who are born addicted to drugs and face a variety of symptoms including withdrawal for a few days or seizures. Babies can also face more severe consequences of their mothers addiction. Steps began last year to force hospitals to report cases of drug dependent mothers, but now the legislature has decided legal action is also needed to heighten awareness, increase the penalties, and to deter mothers from their addiction.
One lawmaker who supports the addiction pregnancy legislative action believes its time to hold women accountable for the injuries to their babies. Rep. Terri Lynn Weaver believes telling someone what theyve done is wrong and making them pay the consequences is good. The goal is to help women get the treatment they need, but lawmakers insist without appropriate consequences and serious penalties women may lack the necessary incentives.
Some lawmakers struggle with new pregnancy addiction law
While many lawmakers support the pregnancy addiction bill its only because they cannot think of a better way to stop pregnant woman for harming their unborn child. "We are always trying to save children who should be saved by their families, and I have said if there is a better way, bring it to me," said State Rep. John DeBerry. "I haven't seen it yet."
How severe would the penalties be for pregnancy addiction? Although some have fought for murder charges if the baby dies, most states are looking at charging the women with reckless endangerment, which is a misdemeanor. If the woman is charged with a more serious crime such as criminal assault the penalties could be as high as fifteen years.
Women speak out against criminalization
Womens rights groups as well as mothers claim the new laws are too punitive and may discourage women from getting help. Some women claim they may be less likely to come forward and request help if they think they could be sent to jail. Others are also concerned the new approach could inadvertently lead to an increase in abortions in some communities. Others are concerned that lawmakers do not fully understand the issue of addiction.
Governor Bill Haslam, who is considered a moderate Republican, has agreed to sign the bill into law despite objections from the medical community and certain womens rights groups. He claims he feels comfortable with the language of the new bill and believes the law will give women ample means to avoid jail time for their addiction.