Tennessee OKs Law That Criminalizes Pregnant Moms Who Use Drugs

Wednesday, 30 Apr 2014 06:45 PM

By Ken Mandel

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Beginning July 1, Tennessee women who use drugs while pregnant could face criminal charges for bringing harm to their babies.

Gov. Bill Haslam signed the documentation Tuesday after "extensive conversations with experts including substance abuse, mental health, health and law enforcement officials," he wrote in a statement, published by The Tennessean. "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."

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Haslam spent the maximum 10 days to consider the counsel of doctors, drug addiction specialists, and health groups that urged him to veto the legislation. He signed despite the opposition of five major medical associations, including the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.

Beginning in July, prosecutors can charge a woman with criminal assault if a fetus or newborn is harmed as a result of her taking illegal drugs during her pregnancy. The opposition argued that the threat of prosecution would prevent women in those situations from seeking treatment.

"I understand the concerns about this bill, and I will be monitoring the impact of the law through regular updates with the court system and health professionals," Haslam wrote.

According to The Tennessean, state officials have grappled with the mounting numbers of babies born addicted to drugs, who typically suffer from neonatal abstinence syndrome. The law does protect mothers if they gain admittance into a state-run treatment programs.

The American Medical Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists were among those opposing Haslam's decision.

"We are very sorry to see that Governor Haslam let an opportunity to do the right thing slip through his fingers," Rebecca Terrell, Chair of Healthy & Free Tennessee, said in a statement. "The experts could not have been clearer: This law is bad for babies and bad for Tennessee."

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