New Drug Law For Pregnant Women in Tennessee
New Tennessee pregnancy law has apparently claimed its first violator. This month the state of Tennessee has issued a new law allowing for a pregnant woman to be prosecuted for assault for the illegal use of a narcotic drug while pregnant if her infant is harmed or addicted to the narcotic upon delivery. A drug addiction mother can also be charged with homicide if the baby dies at any point.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam signed the new piece of legislation back in April, and the governor said himself that the intent of the new law is to give local law enforcement and the district attorney’s office another powerful tool to address the growing concern of illicit drug use among pregnant women through giving them the necessary access to drug treatment programs. The new law is supposed to be designed to allow any woman charged to enter into a substance abuse treatment program before giving birth as a defense, and hopefully she will be able to successfully complete the program afterward.
Republican state Representative Terri Lynn Weaver sponsored the new law. When the bill was first being brought to fruition he was quoted as saying,
“It would just seem to me that any society that puts value on life would agree that these defenseless children deserve some protection and these babies need a voice.”
But perhaps what Weaver is unaware of in the vast amounts of fear and stigma surrounding mothers who struggle with substance abuse while pregnant, and how hard it can be to seek treatment.
The First Arrest
Just recently local deputies in Tennessee said they received a call from the Department of Child Services after a baby girl was born at UT Medical Center and after being tested she came up positive for meth. The 26-year-old mother was arrested, and informed of her charges as she was actually being discharged from the hospital.
The young mother is Mallory Loyola. Loyola has had a history of meth-related arrests in the past, and now she is the first woman to be charged with assault under the new Tennessee law that is directed at mothers who take drugs while pregnant. Mallory Loyola was released later on a $2,000 bail, and has been charged with a misdemeanor.
The Sheriff of Monroe County Bill Bivens stated recently that Mallory Loyola had later admitted to smoking meth just days before she had gave birth to her daughter. Sheriff Monroe insists that he hopes the arrest will set a tone for the future in the area. Officials and law enforcement expect it will deter other women from committing the crime and endangering the lives of their children who have not yet been born. The sheriff was quoted as saying,
“Hopefully it will send a signal to other women who are pregnant and have a drug problem to seek help. That’s what we want them to do.”
Opposing Opinions on the Effects
As good as the intentions may be, not everyone in Tennessee believes that this is the best course of action for the war on drugs to take. The law recently came under fire with local and national critics claiming it would have the opposite effect of what lawmakers are hoping to accomplish. Those opposing the new bill say it will greatly deter and intimidate drug-addicted pregnant women from getting the help they need.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee has stepped up to lead the efforts in combating the legislation. Tennessee ACLU challenges the law, which they said raises “serious constitutional concerns regarding equal treatment under the law.”
Thomas Castelli is the legal director of the ACLU of Tennessee, and in a statement to the presss he had expressed a strong opinion on the opposition of this new policy,
“This dangerous law unconstitutionally singles out new mothers struggling with addiction for criminal assault charges. By focusing on punishing women rather than promoting healthy pregnancies, the state is only deterring women struggling with alcohol or drug dependency from seeking the pre-natal care they need.”
So at this point, the law has already taken effect, and surely there are more arrests on the way, which brings the question as to how will this affect the mothers who currently struggle with substance abuse? Will they feel more prompted to seek help and medical treatment, or will they become more terrified of the implications of seeking treatment? Will this new law truly be making a positive change in the way substance abuse and addiction is being addressed in Tennessee, or will there only be greater complications as a result of these scare tactics?
Mothers and fathers battling substance abuse and addiction experience the suffering in different and intense ways, and so do the children of addicts or alcoholics. But that suffering can be avoided and recovery is possible with the right treatment. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135