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Originally published April 29 2014

Tennessee introduces bill to protect unborn children from drug use

by L.J. Devon, Staff Writer

(NaturalNews) When a father and a mother are properly educated about conception and the stages of fetal development, a respect for life flourishes.

What the mother consumes during her pregnancy is passed on to the developing child inside the womb. When a mother uses narcotic drugs, the precious baby inside her tummy is given no choice but to take in the chemicals and addictive substances. Consequently, some babies are born addicted to narcotic drugs. Some babies are even born damaged by them, or are delivered stillborn.

Tennessee has become the first state to propose legislation seeking to protect the unborn from a mother's narcotic drug use. The proposal, SB 1391, has passed both the Tennessee House and Senate and is expected to arrive at Governor Bill Haslam's desk for final approval.

The new proposal states that any woman taking an illicit drug during her pregnancy "can be prosecuted for an assaultive offense or homicide" and could be forced to spend 15 years behind bars.

Possible negative implications of the law

While the law seeks to respect the life and well-being of a child coming into the world, it could theoretically do more damage to the well-being of the child as the newborn is separated from the mother.

How might a law that imprisons expectant mothers actually harm the baby further, as the birth mother is separated from the child for years?

Will imprisonment help women struggling with addictions, or is there a better way -- a way that encourages community support, better prenatal care and addiction recovery services?

Women may instinctively become worried about losing their parental rights and may never come forth with their addiction because they are afraid of being prosecuted or separated from their baby.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists is concerned about potential negative effects of the law. In 2011, they issued this statement: "drug enforcement policies that deter women from seeking prenatal care are contrary to the welfare of the mother and fetus. Incarceration and the threat of incarceration have proved to be ineffective in reducing the incidence of alcohol or drug abuse."

Farah Diaz-Tello, a staff attorney with the National Advocates for Pregnant Women said, "Criminalizing pregnancy outcomes scares women away from prenatal care and drug treatment and mandates separating mothers from their babies just when they need each other the most."

Lawmakers see imprisonment as a way to deter women from using drugs while pregnant

Tennessee state representative Terri Weaver sees the law as being effective: "This law brings treatment to the worst of the worst. 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."

There may be some compassion built into the proposal law for the addicted mother. According to the legislation, women who enroll in an addiction recovery program before the child is born can avoid prosecution as long as they complete the program after their child is born.

State Sen. Todd Gardenhire, believes that stronger punishment methods are needed to deter drug use while pregnant. "We are interested in protecting that child that has no say-so in this argument at all," he said.

Build more addiction recovery and prenatal care centers, not jails

Opponents of the measure argue that women won't seek help and may even have a difficult time finding drug treatment facilities throughout the state, as there are only 19 facilities that currently serve pregnant women. Many women may have few options for help and might be jailed instead.

"Pregnant women seeking help are put into a double bind, subject to arrest but not able to seek treatment," said Monica Simpson, executive director of SisterSong, a reproductive collective for women of color.

How might this legislation bypass the root of the problem, the addiction, and break up a family for years, as a child goes without a mother?

There is definitely a need for prenatal care centers that focus on education, nutrition and compassion. Building more jails and separating more families may never fix the root of the problem.

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