Criminally Pregnant

aaaaaacriminallypregnant

I usually don’t post a new entry so soon after the last, but this topic is time-sensitive.

I’m getting tired of writing about Tennessee’s crazy politicians but this time their insanity is so egregious that I can’t let it pass without comment.

The Tennessee house and senate passed a bill that allows a woman to be criminally charged if her baby is born drug dependent. If their Governor Haslam signs this bill, it will become law.

As we know, Tennessee has a terrible opioid addiction problem with one of the highest overdose death rates in the nation. Opioid addiction afflicts men and women in nearly equal numbers, and most of those women are in their child-bearing years. Thus, Tennessee has many pregnant women who have the disease of drug addiction.

Naturally, hospitals have seen a growing number of infants born with opioid withdrawal. Small rural hospitals may not have physicians who are educated about how to treat these babies. It’s a frightening situation, and the response is fear-based: make drug use during pregnancy a crime.
Politicians promote draconian laws that will punish these women, who are probably the most vilified segment of society, and gain favor with voters who don’t understand the underlying issues.

So now Tennessee has a law that makes getting pregnant a crime, if you have the disease of addiction. (By the way, there are other illnesses that can harm the fetus if the mom becomes pregnant, but we have no laws making pregnancy illegal for those patients.)

Supporters of this new insane law probably say it should encourage pregnant addicts to get help before their babies are born. That could be true, if Tennessee had adequate treatment programs in place. As we know, methadone and buprenorphine are the best treatments for opioid-addicted pregnant women, yet under this law, this gold-standard of treatment may also be considered illegal.

So should pregnant moms “just say no” and stop using opioids? We know that going through opioid withdrawal while pregnant is associated with bad outcomes for mom and fetus, what with increased risks of preterm labor, placental abruption, and low birth weights. Over the last fifty years, multiple studies repeatedly show better outcomes when you maintain the mom of a stable dose of methadone, or more recently buprenorphine, during the pregnancy.

If this bill is signed into law by Tennessee’s governor, we can predict what will happen.

After all, what would you do, if you are a pregnant addict and know you will be prosecuted if anyone discovers you’re drug user? You avoid prenatal care. Maybe you get an abortion, even if you really want a baby, because you don’t want to go to jail. Maybe you try to stop using opioids on your own, go into withdrawal, and have one of the complications we know to be common in such a situation. Maybe you have preterm labor at 30 weeks and your baby ends up in the intensive care unit for many months. Worse, maybe your baby doesn’t make it. Or your baby does make it, but is taken away from you at birth, because authorities say an addict can’t care for a baby. Your baby enters the foster care system, with its pitfalls.

In short, this law discourages medical care in the very population of women who can benefit the most from medical care and treatment of addiction!

But wait…this law says the woman can be charged if the baby is born dependent. What about pregnant women who smoke? The infants are technically dependent on nicotine, so that meets this law’s criteria. These women can also be criminally charged. Probably Tennessee would have to build a new jail just for those women, and of course Tennessee’s taxpayers would be happy to pay for their incarceration, right?

In the past, laws against drug use in pregnancy have been unevenly implemented. If you look at the cases that have been prosecuted, nearly all involved poor, non-white mothers. Maybe that’s because law enforcement knows that people of higher socioeconomic status can afford hire a lawyer to defend themselves against these ridiculous laws, which always get struck down on appeal, though that can take years.

Policies that inflict criminal penalties on pregnant women with the treatable disease of addiction cause harm to everyone. Hospitals have higher costs when a mom with no prenatal care arrives on their door step ready to deliver, with much higher rates of perinatal complications. Taxpayers end up paying the high costs of incarceration for these women. But most of all, the babies and their moms are harmed.

Let Governor Haslam know how you feel by writing to him: bill.haslam@tn.gov or call at: (615-741-2001)

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10 responses to this post.

  1. Thank you for shining light on this situation! I hope folks wide and far – but especially healthy mothers who delivered healthy babies while on maintenance – will write and/or call our governor urging him to VETO this insane bill!

    For more from the National Advocates for Pregnant Women (NAPW) if you need more specifics or help with what to say: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1rvvPMWNJWftPOIJaT3Hg74iJ-ccQVgC96AzAFTz-rvI/mobilebasic

    Zac Talbott
    NAMA-R TN

    Reply

  2. Posted by sierra stewart on April 12, 2014 at 1:58 pm

    I was on methadone for 2years after having stillborn twins and four misscarriages i got bad on drugs so i went to methadone clinic as u imagine i am very high risk in preg and had given up well when i decided to try to get off the methadone i found out i was preg and 5 high risk doctors or the clinic neither would let me come off it i even tried not payin to get them to wean me out n they wouldnt i now have a very healthy 3month old boy…. After all my loses being on methadone gave me my baby it dont just take away addiction pain but stress now my son never had to withdraw for i was very lucky my friends baby wasnt and i admitt it is sad but those babies are honestly some of the healthiest babies i have seen wouldnt they rather parents seek help? It dont permanatly harm babies just r uncomfortable and the hospital then makes them comfortable n they come down alot better but isnt that better than a baby on herion born with hole in heart and deformed stomach? Ive seen that before sadley someone i know adopted

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  3. Posted by kevin on April 13, 2014 at 12:25 am

    Or they will travel accross state lines like we already do to get treatment in another state to hide from the pitfalls of our most unrighteous state governments. I’m so tired of politics. I’m tired of “law” these are the reasons so many despise law enforcement and the idiots that make up stupid laws that do nothing but make the ones deciding and choosing feel better. I can see for some laws. But for instance. Who chose to make marijuana illegal but make alcohol legal when alcohol is worse than pot. I’m serious. When I use to smoke I never swerved or got anyone in any danger. I get so tired of politics. They are all corrupt and make there own laws up that sounds good to them half the time not putting the people first that actually put there asses there!

    Reply

  4. This is not just a Tennessee problem. A New Jersey state trial court, and intermediate appellate court, found a mother to be guilty of abuse because, during pregnancy, she followed advice to go on methadone treatment, and therefore the baby was born with neonatal abstinence syndrome (but otherwise fine). The case is currently on appeal to the New Jersey Supreme Court.

    Reply

  5. Posted by ashley on April 20, 2014 at 8:41 am

    does anyone know if this bill was passed or not? I was on methadone with my son and he couldn’t of been healthier,I believe that if this is or becomes true then people will think they are going to lose the baby and goto jail regardless and not seek any kind of treatment and on top of that not goto the dr and receive prenatal care!!!

    Reply

  6. Posted by Kristi Whitaker on April 26, 2014 at 11:48 pm

    This has got to be one of the dumbest things I’ve heard. I’m going on 5 years of sobriety thanks to suboxone. I also have 3 beautiful and very smart children. Had it not been for my doctors advising me to stay on the meds I doubt I would have my 1st child.

    We all know exactly what will happen. Women who are pregnant and addicted with either… have an abortion, hide their pregnancy, go across state lines, seek no medical attention, possibly induce their own abortion because they can’t afford it, and worst kill the baby or leave it somewhere to die. Those are the awful facts. I hate to even type those words. But when you are desperate you do stupid things you normally wouldn’t do. I hope this bill isn’t passed. It will ruin a lot of lives. I will be writing my own story to the Governor. My advice to any pregnant and addicted women in Tennessee…. MOVE!

    Reply

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