Tennessee Criminalizes Drug-Related Pregnancy Outcomes

The number one problem with this law isn’t that it goes after pregnant women who use drugs, but that it assumes a causal connection that might not even be present.

I have a friend whose mother smoked crack while she was pregnant with him, and he was born missing a finger. I have another friend whose ex-wife didn’t use drugs during her pregnancy, yet their baby was born missing her entire right hand.

We’ve known for decades that use of certain drugs during pregnancy increases the risks of premature birth, low birth weight, and both mental and physical handicaps. We’ve also known that not consuming enough folic acid during the first 28 days of pregnancy or consuming too much Vitamin A leads to anencephaly and miscarriage. What’s next, punishing women whose babies are born defective due to dietary deficiencies?

Second, there’s the issue of criminal culpability. Yes, everyone is aware of the risks of using drugs while pregnant. But what if the drug use occurred prior to a woman’s knowledge of her pregnancy?

I smoked about a pack of cigarettes per day and drank an insane amount of espresso and energy drinks during the first couple months my pregnancy — which is when the majority of birth defects occur — yet I quit cold turkey as soon as I learned I was with child. Not quite the same as smoking crack, I know, but by the time most women learn of their pregnancies, whatever major birth defects are going to occur have most likely occurred!

It is highly unethical to hold someone accountable for the outcome of their pregnancy based on what they did prior to its discovery, especially if they never planned on getting knocked up in the first place.

The application of this law could easily turn into witch hunt against poor women, young women, and racial minorities who miscarry or whose babies are otherwise born with complications. “Baby born missing fingers? Call CPS — let’s grill the bitch. She must’ve used at least once during her pregnancy.” Even if Mom and Baby are both testing clean, this law provides new grounds for CPS to get involved on suspicion alone.

Can’t say I’m a fan of pregnancy drug laws… period. I was offered narcotic pain medication during my third trimester because my “arthritis” (i.e., leg-eating tumor) pain had gotten so bad that I could hardly even walk. I declined the prescription despite the fact that I was spending 10+ hours on my feet each day at work, but I wouldn’t negatively judge someone for making the opposite decision if they were in my place.

Pregnant women can feel agonizing pain too, you know. Would you deny a pregger painkillers if they fell and broke their leg? What about after medically-necessary surgery, such as the removal of a tumor? Fibromyalgia?


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