Should Pregnant Women Be Charged With A Crime For Using Drugs?

A 26 year old woman is the first to be arrested under a new law in Tennessee that specifically prohibits drug use in pregnant women, considering it “assault” on the unborn fetus. She was charged after both she and her newborn infant tested positive for meth. The new mom later admitted to smoking meth days before giving birth.

The controversial new law, which 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 said he hoped the arrest would deter other 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.

Despite the good intentions behind the law, it has come under significant opposition from critics who argue that the law will hinder drug-addicted expectant mothers from getting help and treatment. The American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee is currently seeking to challenge the law, citing “serious constitutional concerns regarding equal treatment under the law.”

“This dangerous law unconstitutionally singles out new mothers struggling with addiction for criminal assault charges,” said Thomas Castelli, legal director of the ACLU Tennessee. “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 prenatal care they need.”

After signing the bill in April, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam released a statement saying the intent of the law is to “give law enforcement and district attorneys a tool to address illicit drug use among pregnant women through treatment programs.”

The bill was signed just after Michael Botticelli, acting director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy at the time, said the federal government didn’t want to “criminalize” addiction.

Anyone who is charged may enter a treatment program before birth and successfully complete it afterwards as a defense. According to ABC News affiliate WATE-TV in Knoxville, the woman was released on $2,000 bail and was officially charged with a misdemeanor.