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HOT TOPICS: Alcoholism  Addiction  AA  Cocaine  Heroin

Tennessee Governor Signs Bill That Will Send Pregnant Women to Jail For Doing Drugs

With the stroke of a pen, Governor Bill Haslam makes Tennessee the first state in the union to punish drug addicted mothers with jail time.

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Republican Gov. Bill Haslam
Wiki Commons

By Shawn Dwyer

05/02/14

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While states across the country and even the federal government itself are realizing that treatment is a better option for addicts than prison, Tennessee appears ready to go double down on sending drug users to prison. On Tuesday, Gov. Bill Haslam signed into law a bill that would criminally prosecute pregnant women for using illicit drugs. The law goes into effect July 1.

Before signing the bill, Haslam had "extensive conversations with experts including substance abuse, mental health, health and law enforcement officials," he said in a statement. "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."

Before signing the bill, however, Governor Haslam received a petition that included over 10,000 names asking him to veto the legislation. The petition was handed to him by representatives of Planned Parenthood and Healthy and Free Tennessee.

"We know that this law is going to hurt families in Tennessee," said Allison Glass of Healthy and Free Tennessee. "We know that mothers need health care, not prisons."

At the time, Haslam was unsure whether or not he would veto the legislation. But on Tuesday, he signed the law and tried to offer some comfort to his critics. "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 said in his statement.

Hedy Weinburg, director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee, voiced her displeasure by saying that she was “extremely disappointed” by Haslam’s decision. “A pregnant woman struggling with drug or alcohol dependency will now be deterred from seeking the prenatal care she needs," Weinberg said.

The bill sailed through both houses of the legislature in early April. By signing it into law, Halsam made Tennessee the first state in the union to punish pregnant drug users with prison.

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