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Tennessee Wants to Punish Drug-Addicted Pregnant Women

The legislature recently approved a bill that would would make Tennessee the first state in the union to treat drug using women like common criminals.

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By McCarton Ackerman

04/11/14

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The Tennessee legislature is gearing up to move away from a compassionate approach towards drug-addicted pregnant woman by adopting more punitive laws.

The legislature has approved a bill to criminally prosecute addicted pregnant women if their child “is born addicted, is harmed or dies because of the drug.” The House overwhelmingly approved the bill 64-30 on Wednesday afternoon, which means that prosecutors can charge the women with “assaultive offense or homicide” if their child is impacted because of their drug use.

Although Tennessee and 16 other states allow for “civil commitment” of pregnant women with a drug problem, such as forced admission into a treatment program, the state will become the first in the union to call for jail time in these instances. Under current rules, women in Tennessee are protected from prosecution until the fetus becomes “viable” at around 24 weeks. The state adopted a Safe Harbor act last year, offering incentives for drug-addicted pregnant women to access treatment, but new reports indicate that the rate of drug-addicted births was still increasing in the state.

An amended version of the bill passed yesterday indicated that these charges would be removed if they voluntarily entered an approved treatment program. "This piece of legislation is an intervention," said bill sponsor and state Rep. Terri Weaver. "Do you want help for yourself, and do you want help for the baby who is inside your womb, or not?” However, most major medical associations are opposed to the bill and believe it will discourage drug-addicted pregnant women from seeking both prenatal care and help for their addiction.

Last week, former nurse Stephanie Greene was sentenced to 20 years in prison after her six-week old daughter died from high levels of morphine found in her breast milk.

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