This Tennessee Law About Pregnant Addicts Won’t Make Them Stop Using Drugs
I think one of the saddest things you can think of is a baby born addicted to drugs. No one likes hearing these stories and I think we all feel a bit judgey towards women who continue using drugs throughout their pregnancies. But sentencing them to a year in jail after they give birth isn’t going to do anything to help them get off drugs and stay off drugs while they are pregnant, which is what they are now doing in Tennessee if women and their infants test positive for controlled substances after having a baby. From ABC.com:
A Tennessee woman is the first to be charged under a new state law that specifically makes it a crime to take drugs while pregnant, calling it “assault.”
Mallory Loyola, 26, was arrested this week after both she and her newborn infant tested positive for meth, according toÂ ABC News affiliate WATE-TV in Knoxville, Tennessee.Â Loyola is the first person in the state to prosecuted for the offense.
The law, which just went into effect earlier this month, allows a 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 drug.
Monroe County Sheriff Bill Bivens told WATE-TV that the 26-year-old admitted to smoking meth days before giving birth.
“Anytime someone is addicted and they can’t get off for their own child, their own flesh and blood, it’s sad,” he said.
Bivens said he hoped the arrest would deter other pregnant women from drug use.
“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,” he said.
The only good thing about this law is that it doesÂ allows the women the choice to enter a treatment program before the birth and successfully complete it afterwards as a defense, but I find it hard to believe the majority of addicts are thinking super rationally enough to seek help whether they are pregnant or not. And those women who are too scared to do so will now be terrified of getting prenatal care of giving birth under medical supervision because they know if they test positive or their baby does they are facing jail time. Plus, a mom in jail usually ends up with her infant in foster care or with a relative which means that not only is she unable to bond with her child, but not being with her child probably doesn’t make her see the value of not being on drugs to begin with.
What this law does is criminalize addiction, and most drug addicts are sick people, and they have so much shame about their addictions that all this is going to do is cause pregnant women less likely to get help in getting clean. Being on drugs while pregnant is a horrible mistake, but I don’t think a pregnant women getting high is going to hear about a story like this and think “Oh dear, I best stop doing drugs so I don’t end up in prison too.” Addicts don’t exactly have a lot of foresight while in the throes of addiction.
I’m not sure what the answer is and how best we can help these women and their newborns, but I don’t think the threat of jail is the answer. Most people know if you get caught using illegal drugs you can get in trouble, and that doesn’t stop people from using them. Just because a woman is pregnant doesn’t magically make her more apt to get help before it’s too late.