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Should Pregnant Women Be Locked Up for Doing Drugs? A New Tennessee Law Says Yes

Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam just signed into law a bill that allows for pregnant women to be locked up for doing drugs. The measure is supposed to protect the unborn from the impact of their mother’s drug abuse but critics warn it will only hurt expectant moms, especially those who are minority or poor.

According to a statement by the Governor, “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.”

Terri Weaver, who sponsored the  bill in the state legislator agreed that such a measure was needed to protect the state’s kids. “This law brings treatment to the worst of the worst,” the state representative said. “It’s heartbreaking if you’re a police officer, and you see a woman is seven or eight months pregnant and shooting heroin. There is an individual inside that belly that has no choice but to take whatever goes into it.”

Yet critics of the bill point out that while women using drugs during pregnancy is heartbreaking, a bill that criminalizes choices made while carrying a child is ripe for abuse and will ultimately only serve to hurt the poor and minorities.

Rachel Cohen reported that in a recent study that minority women – especially those who are poor or minorities – were already unduly targeted for prosecution in America.

“In all, just over half of the women whose stories are collected in the report are Black. Nearly three-quarters of those facing legal charges were represented by indigent defense,” Cohen wrote in her review of women and the criminal justice system.

Deborah Small, in her AlterNet analysis of the new law, further explained that she believes that a law specifically targeting pregnant women will only lead to more poor women getting locked up and more kids ending up in foster care . “Today, poor Black single mothers are scapegoats for all manner of social problems,” Small wrote. “In particular, the war on drugs has served as a vehicle for the attack, with drug convictions serving as the excuse for terminating parental rights of incarcerated mothers.”

Small added that the law could ultimately be a gateway for the pro-life backers of the legislation who use the law to restrict the rights of pregnant women more and more.

“Who benefits from promoting the fiction of ‘fetal personhood’?” Small demanded, panning the new Tennessee law. “It does nothing to empower children, who lack the agency to be ‘persons’ politically, but it is an effective tool to disempower women and the people, who love, support and depend on them, including the children they already have.”

Photo Credit: Rab

About the author

Tamar is a New York based freelance writer and photographer whose work has appeared in over 15 publications. You can catch her work regularly on Issue Hawk, Latest, Jspace, and MediaGlobal.