Tennessee Passes Law Criminalizing Birth Defects

Tennessee Passes Law Criminalizing Birth Defects

Both of Tennessee's houses passed a law that criminalizes birth defects and stillborn births if prosecutors can prove they resulted from illegal drug abuse by the mother. State representative, Terri Weaver sponsored the bill in an effort to reduce NAS (Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome), which is a group of problems related to the effects of withdrawal. Tennessee has the highest rate of NAS in the country. This new law, which has yet to be signed by the governor, would be the first of its kind in the US and pave the way for drug-addicted mothers to be more easily brought up on child abuse charges.

The law is a response to the Safe Harbor Act, which Weaver and her supporters believed to be ineffective. The Safe Harbor Act offers drug rehabilitation support to pregnant mothers without the fear of losing parental rights to child services or jail time. If the mother fails to complete the program that parental protection is not guaranteed though. However, this new law works directly against the Safe Harbor Act. If enacted it might actually deter mothers seeking addiction help if doing so incriminates themselves and leads to jail time and surrendering of parental rights automatically.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) opposes the new law stating, “Incarceration and the threat of incarceration have proved to be ineffective in reducing the incidence of alcohol or drug abuse.”

It also puts the rights of an unborn child above that of its mothers and apparently is worded so open endedly that any type of behavior deemed "reckless" could bring the mother up on charges. And it doesn't seem to address any applicable guilt of the drug supplier, NOR does it clearly separate or protect non-drug addicted mothers or mothers with legal drug prescriptions who gives birth to children with similar birth issues. Also proving that drug use was the cause for NAS, etc. is also up for debate between prosecuturs and medical professionals.

So not only is Tennessee trying to approve a law that potentially criminalizes anything short of a perfect pregnancy, but also, as Farah Diaz-Tello, a lawyer with the National Advocates for Pregnant Women puts it, “No state has ever passed a law that makes it a crime for a woman to continue her pregnancy."