While One State Wants to Criminalize “Bad” Pregnant People, Another Goes After “Bad” Mothers

Usually, when a state passes a bill meant to try to change a societal trend, they give that bill a few years to see if it is working or not before readdressing it. Tennessee, however, is far too impatient to do so. Instead, the state legislature is in the process of passing a law that will charge a pregnant person with criminal assault for using drugs while pregnant, following the tide of other states that have created new charges specifically and solely focused on those who are carrying a pregnancy to term.

It was only two years ago that the legislature voted to remove criminal charges for a pregnant person found to be using drugs, citing hopes that without fear of jail those people would be more likely both to seek treatment and prenatal care. Now, it could once again be a crime, as the senate has passed SB 1391, allowing misdemeanor assault charges against mothers in cases in which babies are born drug-dependent.

Besides the harm it can cause to both babies who may be denied care because of a mother’s fear of arrest and the pregnant person worried about criminal penalties, even anti-abortion activists show concern about the implications of the bill, which some worry could make pregnant people seek out abortions rather than give birth.

None of this appears to concern bill author, Republican Terry Lynn Weaver, who told two separate news outlets, “This piece of legislation is an intervention. Do you want help for yourself, and do you want help for the baby who is inside your womb, or not?” and that, “It would just seem to me that any society that puts value on life, that these defenseless children deserve some protection.”

As reproductive rights writer Lauren Rankin notes over at Cosmo, however, that “protection” comes at a cost, and it’s a cost that will disproportionately affect pregnant people of color. Rankin reports that the bill’s sponsor testified it was only meant to deal with heroin and cocaine use. “If this bill is meant to address the epidemic of babies born with NAS, why is it only criminalizing certain kinds of drug users?” Rankin asked.

Recent data from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration shows that though black women have higher rates of illicit drug use, one in five white women actually smoke cigarettes during their pregnancy,” writes Rankin. “Older data from the National Institute on Drug Abuse indicates that despite higher rates of illicit drug use among black women, more white women use illicit drugs during pregnancy.”

Additional criminalization of drug use during pregnancy is rapidly expanding, from forcing women into rehab even if they say they are coping with their addiction on their own to seeking out a pregnant woman who left her newborn at the hospital after birth, because the newborn had drugs in its system. The dismissal of “depraved heart murder” charges for Rennie Gibbs is one positive story, but the prosecution’s vow to seek out manslaughter charges anyway to punish this woman for a “crime” that happened almost a decade ago and which hasn’t been adequately proven by autopsy shows that our society is obsessed with punishing a mother for any harm that comes to her child, regardless of how little evidence there is to support it.

But what if that sort of action didn’t stop at birth, but continued? We are seeing precedent. In South Carolina, a mother is being charged for “involuntary manslaughter and unlawful conduct toward a child,” after her child died of a morphine overdose. Allegedly, the crime was committed via breastfeeding, despite the fact that as one reporter remarks, the forensic investigation was cursory at best, and possibly completely negligent. “Her hair wasn’t tested either. Morphine is stable in hair for months, and hair analysis would have revealed whether Mrs Greene was taking more medication than had been prescribed. That test was also deemed unnecessary,” writes Steven Karch. “In short, no real forensic investigation was conducted, just an autopsy with no diagnostic findings. If no drugs had been detected, death would have been attributed to SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome or ‘cot death’).”

What all of these laws and cases underscore is that via our legislatures and our criminal system we are, in essence, seeking to punish women for not protecting their children, from egg stage to infant. First, criminalize bad mothering during pregnancy, next even after the infant is born. Where, exactly, will it stop?

Photo credit: Thinkstock


Jim Ven
Jim Ven7 months ago

thanks for the article.

Janice Thompson
Janice Thompson2 years ago

Women; we don't stand a chance.

Elizabeth Brawn
Elizabeth Brawn2 years ago

rehab not jail

Michael T.
Michael T2 years ago

He didn't return from his death as was also part of the prophecy, and this disappointed them to no end. This revelation was written as a prediction of what would happen BACK then. It no longer applies because it didn't happen and isn't going to happen in our time and era.

But this constant, delusional belief that it will come true is something that needs to be dispensed with. This world is no more crazy or evil than it ever was. A historian sees this without a problem. But believers are so deluded they keep hoping an end of times will happen to finally provide an action they can point to that finally provides some proof that their imaginary god actually exists.

It doesn't and you and those who believe as you do are sadly so bent and distorted by your continued belief, that it is sad to observe.

It angers many of us because believers are influencing things in a very harmful way, bent on imposing your delusion on the rest of us.

Michael T.
Michael T2 years ago

I am uncertain about what you are stating here Gerald. Perhaps you could clarify.

Secondly, there is no god, so your reference to a green one, and some citation from a book where an author, clearly insane, and who today, writing such material would be institutionalized and placed on medication, with treatment aimed at helping him heal from his delusions and hallucinatory predictions.

He wrote these crazy things in response to his disappointment that the man they believed was a messiah, actually wasn't a messiah, as the only prophecy he fulfilled in terms of being a messiah according to prophecy was that he was born Jewish and was male.

The man you believe is some sort of christ or messiah was actually a man who simply wanted to overthrow their Roman rule and to restore the tribes of Israel to their former glory in the eyes of their god (another imaginary friend), the Jewish god.

Catrina Therrien
Catrina Therrien2 years ago

OWN PERSON AND I MAKE MY LIFE! And this was before any baby was even in my mind..who the hell could have a baby knowing that they are a junkie(and almost all junkies know they are a junkie and will admit to so..sometimes you run across the person who takes prescribed meds and has become addicted to them but are in denial about it because they didn't see it happening since the doctor gave it to them for pain or what have you..but it does happen like that since my friends mom is in that situation currently)?! I surely couldn't of done it.

Catrina Therrien
Catrina Therrien2 years ago

Someone had mentioned coffee and chocolate in this post somewhere and I have to laugh at that since both of those items both are actually healthy in a sense(if eaten/drank properly and the right varieties) and caffeine withdrawal is NOTHING at all like drug withdrawal. They are so totally different that they cant even be compared to each other.

Mind you I do praise those who are actually out there to help themselves which is really very rare but it does happen so don't get me wrong but like I said it VERY rare and those women would still be willing to help themselves and their child even if they had to sit in jail for sometime or some sort of facility that keeps them away. The real strong women who care of themselves and their unborn child will not be deterred by this but be grateful that it is happening. And Just so people know..I used to pop pills..I never ever once needed the system to help me come clean(because LOL the system doesn't even help you it keeps you addicted but in a different way..for crying out loud they tell you once your an addict your always an addict which is so unture! this is the help that these women and even men receive LOL sad!). I did it on my own, cold turkey and suffered withdrawals and extreme depression for 4 yrs but I AM A STRONG WOMAN AND I DELT WITH MY MISTAKES ON MY OWN SINCE THEY WERE MY OWN DOING, I BROKE THE CYCLE, MY MOTHER DIDNT FORCE ME NOR MY FATHER AND EVEN THO I SEEN IT ALL MY LIFE AND GREW UP WITH IT I BROKE THE CYCLE I AM MY O

Catrina Therrien
Catrina Therrien2 years ago

revolves around drugs. that is all they talk about. Where to get the next fix, where to get money for their drug, who are they going to con next, who are they going to steal from next and so on and so on. It is their life..not just an addiction.

So I deff. agree jail time(THEY CAN GET REAL HELP IN JAIL..AWAY FROM THE STEEETS AND AWAY FROM THEIR DOPED UP "FRIENDS" WHO KEEP THEM IN THAT SITATION..AWAY FROM THE DRUGS..THAT IS WHAT HELP THEY REALLY NEED, we leave them on the streets and everything is still right there for them and even when they are getting "help" on the streets they really aren't even being helped and they LIE soooo bad almost everything they say is a lie they lie to those who "help" them and those who dope friends) is needed to keep them off the street to keep them away from the drugs until after the baby is born.

Catrina Therrien
Catrina Therrien2 years ago

Like I said it isn't only an addiction but it is also a lifestyle...most drug addicts will remain as such until they die or until they hit rock bottom(and even then they still continue to go and go). They need jail time..especially while that baby is inside of them so the baby can be drug free while the mother is jailed. They can offer council in the jail for these women but honestly the only way to HELP these women is to stick them somewhere where they can not obtain drugs because otherwise your just feeding them even more. Almost all these people know the system and know it all to well. You know how much their help goes for on the streets?! 20 dollars for one of their helpful other pills that we give them for HELP..in which they sell and then go buy what they want(their drug of choice) and they save only enough to have it in their system so they can keep getting more "help" from the give. Really our help has only made matters worse and worse. In the end out of over 300 drug addicts and most of them women(since I know most have only seen 1 pregnant woman change her life because of her baby and the only way she did it was to move far far away from anything and everybody. Most pregnant women can not do this or will not do this anyways and it is almost impossible to change someones lifestyle since that is the life they have been living for so long and in almost all cases of being a drug addict it isn't just an addiction they have but it is life that they live..their whole day r

Catrina Therrien
Catrina Therrien2 years ago

I haven't read threw everything but some people responded to myself. 1: I have my own child yes and I took it upon myself to take NO addicting types of drinks or drugs during my pregnancy cuz I am a mother who cares about my child. 2: Everyone keeps saying "they don't need jail they need help" well guess what happens when these people get help....they still use! They use when they are on suboxin and they use when they go to the meth clinic as well now mid you when on meth they go to the clinic and take the med..they get home and smoke weed or get drunk so that they can feel the affect of the meth even more..even so some people never even cut themselves down because they get high off the meth and they are getting high for free off the state..none of these programs actually help all it does is turn one addiction into a monitored addiction instead). I know all to well how "help" really helps these people. All in all it only enables them even more! They are getting free drugs from the system and then going on the streets and getting more. Before when a woman had drugs in their system when they had their child the baby was auto taken away at birth and then for some stupid reason that stopped now we have tons and tons of suffering children.