TN bill penalizes pregnant women addicted to drugs

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CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (WDEF) – A bill that would punish pregnant mothers addicted to narcotics is going through the legislature.

“This bill’s intent is to protect babies, period,” State Rep. Terri Lynn Weaver (R) Lancaster said.

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It was law in 2014, but it expired in 2016.

Its sponsor, Rep. Weaver, decided to introduce it again.

“The number of babies born addicted to drugs, it has not decreased. It has exponentially increased,” State Rep. Weaver said.

The bill, HB1168/SB 659, allows mothers addicted to drugs to be charged with assault if their baby is born addicted and harmed by the drugs.

“This bill also has the direction to allow mothers to go to drug recovery courts and they are very successful,” State Rep. Weaver said.

But not everyone feels the bill is the way to go.

“We believe that perhaps the bill is well-intentioned, we all want to compel pregnant women who have an addiction to reach out and get treatment and to get help to get into an effective program, but we believe this law could really do the opposite,” Addiction Campuses Public Relations Manager Erika Lathon said.

Erika Lathon works with Addiction Campuses.

The organization is based out of Nashville and has treatment centers across the country.

“A pregnant woman who is battling an addiction is already facing a tremendous amount of stigma and has a number of problems to deal with and then you add on top of that the possibility of her being prosecuted and thrown into jail, we believe that is going to push them further away, make the woman less likely to say yes I have a problem, yes I’m addicted, yes I need help,” Lathon said.

She said more money needs to be invested into treatment programs and education available to help the problem.

“Rather than throwing them into jail and then giving them a bunch of legal problems to deal with, a child going into foster care. All of these things is going to cost tax payers more money on the back end,” Lathon said.

If passed, the bill would take effect on July 1st.