Tennessee women who use drugs while pregnant can be criminally charged for harm done to their infants beginning July 1, The Tennessean reports. Gov. Bill Haslam signed the legislation yesterday after “extensive conversations with experts including substance abuse, mental health, health and law enforcement officials,” he said.
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.” The governor acted after a week of mounting nationwide oppositon from civil- and reproductive rights groups. They argued that criminalization would drive vulnerable women away from drug addiction treatment.
The law brings back criminalization, which lawmakers had eliminated two years ago as the state moved toward programs that incentivize expecting mothers to get into treatment. Tennessee officials have debated what to do about the growing numbers of infants born dependent on drugs and who often suffer from a condition known as neonatal abstinence syndrome. The new law would allow mothers to avoid criminal charges if they get into one of the state's few treatment programs. Haslam said he wants doctors to encourage women to get into treatment before delivering their babies so they can avoid charges. The law includes a sunset provision, which means the criminal penalty will be in effect until 2016. At that time, lawmakers will have to revisit the issue.