Every once in awhile, a story breaks that leaves me just absolutely floored. That’s exactly what happened earlier this month when I read a story from Salon about a governor who just signed a bill into law that never should have even made it to his desk.
For a minute, I thought I was reading an article from The Onion.
The bill, known as SB 1391, allows women to be thrown in jail if their babies end up with a defect or are harmed in any way because of their mother’s drug use. And with the swipe of his pen, Governor Bill
Haslam made Tennessee the first state ever to have such a harsh and grossly out-of-touch law.
It’s easy to immediately think, “What sort of messed up mother would take drugs while pregnant anyway?!”
If only addiction were that simple. If only a positive pregnancy test was an immediate cure for addiction. If only a positive pregnancy test could replace the vast and difficult work that happens in rehabilitation facilities every day.
I’m certainly no expert on addiction — or pregnancy, for that matter. But it doesn’t take a genius to realize how terribly wrong this bill is for mothers and children.
I understand the desire to curb drug use, especially among pregnant women. But criminalizing women without offering them adequate treatment options doesn’t make any sense. And Tennessee has a long way to go when it comes to access to health care and treatment facilities.
According to one of the senators who voted against the bill, there are zero treatment facilities in his district — and this is the case for other regions of the state, as well.
Additionally, “Only two of the state’s 177 addiction treatment facilities that provide on-site prenatal care allow older children to stay with their mothers while they are undergoing treatment. And only 19 of these facilities offer any addiction care specifically oriented toward pregnant women. Tennessee has also refused the Medicaid expansion, leaving many women without reliable access to basic medical or prenatal care, much less drug treatment,” according to the Salon article.
How about instead of tossing a new mother into jail for a disease, you take a better look at your inadequate resources, Gov. Haslam? How about working on those? How about getting to the core of the problem and strengthening families instead of criminalizing women suffering from a disease?
But maybe I’m just the crazy one.
Oh wait, the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology are all also against this law. In fact, they warn that “measures criminalizing pregnant women will only discourage them from seeking prenatal care and drug treatment.”
It’s a sad time for Tennessee.