The so-called Volunteer State is leading the way in backward legislation as the first in the U.S. to allow criminal prosecution of women who allegedly harm their fetuses.
Republican Gov. Bill Haslam took the 10 days allotted to him to consider the advice of doctors, addiction experts and reproductive health groups urging him to veto the punitive and dangerous measure that allows prosecutors to charge a woman with criminal assault if she uses illegal drugs during her pregnancy and her fetus or newborn is considered harmed as a result. Haslam ignored these recommendations—and the recommendations of nearly every major medical association, including the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy —and signed the measure anyway.
Opponents of the new law share a concern that a lack of access to health care and treatment facilities will result in the disproportionate targeting and jailing of poor mothers and mothers of color, particularly in rural districts throughout the state.
Republican state Sen. Mike Bell, one of the seven Republicans in the state Senate to vote against the measure (every Democrat in the state Senate voted in favor), recently told Salon that this lack of access is a problem he thinks will hurt the women of his district and their families. “I represent a rural district,” he said. “There’s no treatment facility for these women there, and it would be a substantial drive for a woman caught in one of these situations to go to an approved treatment facility. Looking at the map of the state, there are several areas where this is going to be a problem.”
—Posted by Natasha Hakimi Zapata