Controversial Tennessee Law Puts New Mothers In Jail For Drug Use

Mallory Loyola, a 26-year-old Tennessee woman, gave birth a few days ago, and under Tennessee’s new drug law, was promptly carted off to jail because her newborn baby tested positive for Meth. According to court documents, Loyola was charged with assault for taking illegal drugs during her pregnancy.

According to CBS News, Governor Bill Haslam signed Tennessee’s new law, effective as of April 2014, over objections from critics who argued it punishes women who are suffering from addiction and need help, not a criminal prosecution.

The state isn’t supposed to make having an addiction a crime, yet that’s what the law does, the ACLU contends.

Women’s rights groups and other medical related opposition to the new law say rather than deter women from using drugs, the law will deter women from getting the prenatal health care they need. That puts the health of the mother and child at risk, they claim.

“Threatening punitive sanctions will not solve the problem. In fact, policies that threaten women with criminal prosecution and the loss of their children drive women away from health care and discourage them from seeking both prenatal and pregnancy care,” said Weinberg, adding the law will foster mistrust between women and their doctors.

Tamar Todd wrote on The Drug Policy Alliance’s website calling the new law “horrible public policy,” and made the comparison that women who smoke cigarettes and drink alcohol while pregnant aren’t subjected to the same treatment.

“Like other failed policies of the war on drugs, the prosecution of pregnant women ignores science, evidence, and health in favour of stigmatization and punishment. And it comes at a huge cost, paid primarily by women of colour, poor women, and the children of these women who will be cut off from prenatal care and perhaps removed from their families in the state’s zeal to punish their mothers,” wrote Todd in a piece published by ABC News.

Defenders of the law say the law is not designed to punish women, but rather encourage pregnant women to get help for their addiction.

We have too many women in Tennessee giving multiple births to drug-dependent babies,” Amy Weirich, a district attorney in Memphis, was quoted as saying in the New York Times. “The focus of the legislation is not to punish these mothers. It’s to get them help for their drug addiction, using the drug courts.”

The one area that both parties can agree on is that Tennessee has a drug problem, but the way to deal with that problem falls short of consensus. Critics of this new law are hoping that the idea doesn’t spread to other states.

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