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New TN law criminalizes drug addiction while pregnant

By Sean Fraser     May 2, 2014 in Health
Nashville - Gov. Bill Haslem of Tennessee has signed a bill into law that will charge pregnant women with misdemeanor assault if they are addicted to drugs.
The law will go into effect July 1 despite heavy opposition to it by women's rights groups, pregnant women's advocates, and the ACLU.
The law will charge pregnant women who use drugs with assault if there is evidence that her drug abuse has detrimentally affected their baby.
According to KRDO, Haslem released a statement saying that he consulted at length with mental health professionals, substance abuse experts, and law enforcement officials in regards to the bill.
"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," Haslem said.
Haslem also noted that the law carries a provision that each case requires a follow-up after two years. This will allow officials to collect data into how the law is affecting babies and mothers.
Opponents to the law, such as the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project, claim the law is an attack on female reproductive rights and is a misguided attempt to prevent drug addicted babies.
Alexa Kolbi-Molinas, a staff attorney for the ACLU, issued a statement saying that the law will force pregnant women who need health care to avoid it in fear of being arrested.
"Pregnant women with addictions need better access to health care, not jail time," Kolbi-Molinas said.
ThinkProgress.org reported that drug use and addiction are not punishable offenses due to the Fourth Amendment's search and seizure clause. However, this law will prosecute pregnant women for using drugs, not buying or possessing them.
Lynn Paltrow, the executive director of National Advocates for Pregnant Women, claims the law is more about arresting women for getting pregnant while drug-addicted, not fighting drug abuse effects on babies.
“Do we arrest new fathers who come into the emergency room who test positive for drugs?" Paltrow said in an interview given to ThinkProgress.org. "This is arresting women because they became pregnant, making them vulnerable to charges of child endangerment for risking harm to a newborn."
The Drug Policy Alliance, a non-profit organization dedicated to ending the war on drugs, claims that the law unfairly targets poor and minority women because it makes explicit note of street drugs but not common ones like cigarettes or alcohol.
"The reality is that many women use alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs while pregnant," said Tamar Todd, a senior staff attorney for the DPA. "But only a few are prosecuted and only for using certain drugs - not those drugs shown to pose greater possible risk to fetal health, such as alcohol, but those we have decided to criminalize largely because of the populations of people who use them."
More about Pregnancy, Pregnant, Women's rights, Drug addiction, Crime
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