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Tennessee will Prosecute Women who Take Harmful Drugs During Pregnancy

Update Date: May 02, 2014 09:23 AM EDT

As of this past Tuesday, it will be illegal for women to take any kinds of harmful drugs during pregnancy within Tennessee. The state's governor, Bill Haslam (R), signed a bill into law making Tennessee the first in the country to arrest and incarcerate pregnant women who use drugs during their pregnancy that negatively affect the fetus.

"I understand the concerns about this bill, and I will be monitoring the impact of the law through regular updates with the court system and health professionals," Haslam, who was urged by many civil rights advocates to veto the bill, said reported in HuffPost.

According to the law, a woman can be prosecuted for assault if she took narcotic drugs during her pregnancy that resulted in three situations. She could be found guilty if her infant is born with a drug addiction, is harmed from the drugs while in the womb or dies after birth due to complications arising from maternal drug use. The law will allow women to avoid criminal charges if they agree to enroll in a state treatment program.

Opponents of this law believe that it will only discourage pregnant women who have drug issues from seeking any kind of medical care out of fear of being arrested. The opponents of the law added that for low-income mothers, many state treatment programs do not account for the mothers' children and lost of income.

"Today, the Tennessee governor has made it a crime to carry a pregnancy to term if you struggle with addiction or substance abuse," said Alexa Kolbi-Molinas, a staff attorney with the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project. "This deeply misguided law will force those women who need health care the most into the shadows. Pregnant women with addictions need better access to health care, not jail time."

The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) wrote in, "Studies indicate that prenatal care greatly reduces the negative effects of substance abuse during pregnancy, including decreased risks of low birth weight and prematurity. Drug enforcement policies that deter women from seeking prenatal care are contrary to the welfare of the mother and fetus."

The law will go into effect on July 1.

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