A long wait for action from Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam ended this week when he signed into law a measure that will make pregnant women subject to assault charges if they use substances during pregnancy and do harm to their child. But judging from the harsh reaction from a number of advocacy groups, this policy debate likely is far from over.
Witness this comment from SisterReach founder and CEO Cherisse A. Scott: “Despite our advocacy attempts and regardless of the impact this law will have on marginalized families, despite the danger that medical professionals have noted a law of this magnitude will cause, our governor chose his party over the experts. This law separates mothers from their children and is not patient-centered.”
A news release from the group National Advocates for Pregnant Women states, “Legal challenges to prosecutions under this law are anticipated.”
According to the Associated Press, Haslam said upon signing the bill that because of concerns from opponents, he will consult with judicial and healthcare officials to keep track of the new law's effects. He added that the law will be reassessed in two years, and that women arrested under the law will be subject to misdemeanor and not felony charges.
But advocacy groups believe prosecutors will use the law to impose much tougher charges on women who use substances while pregnant and give birth to a child with neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS). In addition, advocates believe that the threat of arrest will dissuade many pregnant women with substance use problems from pursuing needed treatment services.
The American Academy of Pediatrics was reportedly among the groups that had formally contacted the Tennessee governor to urge a veto of the legislation.