Last updated on June 18th, 2014 at 11:13 am
Tennessee’s new law to criminalize addicted pregnant women has been at the center of conversation since late April. Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam signed off on the Senate Bill 1391, also known as the Baby Bill, making it a law to prosecute addicted pregnant women with assault charges if their unborn or birthed child is harmed because of the addiction. Haslam agreed to pass the bill despite the outcry of judges, community health organizations, addiction treatment centers, prenatal health care providers, and petitions.
There are groups of individuals that have mixed emotions about the bill. They all agree that something must be done about drug addiction, but prosecuting individuals for it may not be the way to address the epidemic. Many are questioning the bill. Some are in favor and others are against the bill all together.
When a woman is addicted to drugs prior to pregnancy and will not stop using drugs for herself, is it realistic to expect her to stop using drugs for her unborn child? How would placing punishment and criminal charges on the sick change this epidemic? How do you help the child and the mother without bringing more harm to them? Many have expressed their views and concerns of Senate Bill 1391. Tennessee state Rep. Joe Armstrong, representing the Democratic party, disagrees with the bill.
“I voted against the bill. It’s probably one of the worst bills,” said Armstrong. “It’s a horrible bill that was passed by the General Assembly this year. This bill, instead of protecting an unborn child is taking that mother that has a chemical dependency and losing them into the shadows because of fear of incarceration.”
Under the Baby Bill, if a woman is pregnant and addicted to drugs, coming forward could cause her to be persecuted and ultimately incarcerated.
“So what you are doing is causing that person to go into the shadows,” said Armstrong. “Every state that has tried to create a criminal statue for pregnant women who are addicted to drugs has backfired. Wisconsin tried almost 10 years ago and their experience was that once a woman has delivered and that child is taken away from that mother—number one, you have created a woman in despair. When someone is in despair, then you also have the mental health issues of taking that child from that mother. Even though she might be addicted, that doesn’t take away the emotional attachment that she has for her child. We need to treat the addiction, not take away that mother’s child. When the state has taken that away, the first thing that addicted mother does is all of a sudden she becomes pregnant again. So instead of helping, it actually activates the problem. From that standpoint, when they do act as they say on behalf of the unborn child, the mother has a tendency not to seek prenatal care and adequate health care due to fear of prosecution.”
The Senate Bill 1391 is now a law and will be effective in the up-coming months. This bill is now a law and all bills can be repealed if there is an outcry from the community. What is the solution to the addiction and mental health epidemic in Tennessee? New bills are entered in the first three weeks of each session. The middle of February every year is when new bills are beginning to be reviewed. Once the bills are submitted they can be tracked online at . Opposition of new bills must be expressed during the committee process. You can learn more about the SB 1391in the Tennessee Code Annotated, Section 39-13-107 (c). Join us as we continue to cover the people’s concerns and views on this topic.