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Tennessee Women Face 15 Years Prison For Stillborn Babies

Recent legislation in Tennessee that can criminalize pregnancy outcomes will take effect beginning in July 1. Gov. Bill Haslam signed the legislation last Tuesday with the statement that “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.”

What this means that beginning in July 1, women who used drugs and whose babies were stillborn, born addicted or otherwise harmed can face up to 15 years in prison. The legislation does allow for such pregnant mothers to avoid imprisonment by getting into one of the state’s few treatment facilities. Katie McDonough of Salon  writes that of the state has 177 addiction treatment facilities which provide on-site prenatal care, and of those facilities only two allow older children to stay with their mothers while undergoing treatment. Moreover, only 19 of these facilities offer any addiction care specifically oriented toward pregnant women. Further worsening the matters is the fact Obamacare’s proposed Medicaid expansion was rejected in Tennessee, meaning many women in the state cannot afford treatment.

Tony Gonzalez of The Tennessean reports that opponents of this new legislation , including five national medical organizations and local doctors who treat pregnant women, are concerned that criminalization will actually have the reverse effect of scaring away women who need treatment.The new legislation also reverses the accomplishment of the previous year’s Safe Harbor Act, which not only maintains the confidentiality of the pregnant and chemically addicted patient, but also grants them priority placement into the state’s limited number of treatment programs. These concerns were directed to the governor by many groups and health coalitions such as Sister Reach; and Healthy & Free Tennessee.

Governor Haslam ignored these concerns – raised by nearly every major medical association and have signed the legislation anyway. Tennessee is now the first state in the nation where a pregnant women can be imprisoned for their pregnancy outcomes.

Photo Credit: thecurvature.com

About the author

David Kwon is a freelance writer to Issue Hawk. He's currently a graduate student majoring in social work at New York University, mainly being trained to serve the poor and the homeless.