As the abuse of opioids, including prescription painkillers and heroin, has risen in Tennessee, the number of babies born dependent on drugs has skyrocketed, increasing fifteenfold during the last 10 years. In an effort to combat this troubling trend, the state approved a controversial new law in 2014 to allow women who give birth to babies “harmed by” illegal drug usage to be charged with misdemeanor assault.
Under the law, “harm” can mean various things, but the impetus for it was the number of babies being diagnosed with neonatal abstinence syndrome — a painful but treatable condition whose long-term effects have yet to be determined. Other states have found ways to prosecute pregnant women for harming their newborns through drug use, but Tennessee is the first state to pass a specific law allowing women to be charged with a crime if their children are born drug-dependent.
Legislators saw the law as a way to push women into getting treatment. But that’s not what is happening, say critics, including the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee and the Tennessee Assn. for Alcohol, Drug and other Addiction Services. They say the law has had the perverse effect of making pregnant women afraid to get prenatal care, lest they be arrested down the road. Some have avoided Tennessee hospitals altogether, leaving the state or even, in some cases, giving birth in cars.”
Source: LATimes.com – December 14, 2015