House Bill 1660 would extend the harmful Tennessee fetal assault law, which threatens pregnant women and new mothers with jail with the stated goal of getting them into treatment, but does nothing to help expand access to services even though it has been shown that there are not enough facilities that are able or willing to treat pregnant women. As a result, this law is forcing women into the criminal justice system because they do not have other options. The House Criminal Justice Subcommittee will hear the bill on Tuesday, March 8th at 1:30pm (Legislative Plaza Room 31, Tennessee State House).
Women Directly Impacted, Health and Legal Professionals, and Advocates Speak Out to Oppose House Bill 1660
“I was using drugs while I was pregnant with my daughter. I am not proud of that. I tried to get treatment and was told there was a waiting list. I called and called and was refused care by a bunch of facilities. Either they didn’t have room or they didn’t treat pregnant women. My mother even drove me across the state to try to get me into a program. Then I heard about the new law that would throw women into jail. I was terrified that I would lose my baby and be incarcerated. This just made it so much worse for me. I was afraid to ask for help and ended up giving birth to Braylee on the side of the road trying to avoid going to a hospital in Tennessee.
I know first-hand how this law impacts women because I am one of the moms who got caught up in the criminal justice system because of this policy. I am clean now and parenting my daughter, but this experience made my recovery process that much harder. This is a disease and you have to treat it like a disease. Mothers need support and care. We need policies that focus on our health and the health of our children. We do not need judges, jails and judgment. We don’t need our faces in newspaper articles that perpetuate myths about drug use and paint us as terrible and uncaring. When you throw someone behind bars for having a disease you aren’t treating them and you are not helping them or their kids. This law needs to go and Tennessee lawmakers need to find ways to actually help people instead of just assuming the worst of us and keeping a law that treats mothers like criminals.” Brittany Hudson, mother and woman impacted by Tennessee’s fetal assault law, currently works at Renaissance Recovery Group
“Medication assisted treatment is the recommended protocol for pregnant women. There are only 12 licensed methadone centers throughout Tennessee and they do not accept TennCare or other health insurance. Methadone treatment in Tennessee typically costs $12.50 a day – more than $4,500 a year if taken daily. There are also 39 licensed residential detoxification programs in TN – often as part of a continuum of care that provides ongoing residential services. Only 11 of those licensed residential detox programs will accept pregnant women providing just 132 slots for all of the people seeking treatment in those facilities – though pregnant women are a priority for treatment these are not set asides to ensure availability of care for pregnant women.
Waiting lists for care can have hundreds and even over 1000 people on them at any given time. In addition, while there are standards in place within the medical field for treatment of pregnant women, there is no evidence based state protocol in Tennessee. This leaves many Tennessee based treatment facilities with the feeling that treating pregnant women is a liability and they are therefore not willing to expand services to pregnant women. Women cannot avoid jail by seeking treatment if there is no care available to them. There are many barriers that are preventing women from seeking treatment for their opiate use. Lack of access to care is one issue – but Chapter 820 seems to also be inhibiting women from accessing care.” Mary-Linden Salter, Executive Director, Tennessee Association of Alcohol, Drug & other Addiction Services (TAADAS)
“While there may be women in Tennessee who feel that the threat of jail time pushed them to seek treatment, there are also many women who were forced into the criminal justice system simply because they had no other option. There are not enough programs that are willing or able to treat pregnant women. We are putting women in an impossible position where they are told that to avoid jail and being separated from their child they have to complete a program and yet no efforts have been made to expand the availability of affordable, evidence based treatment programs. This is not only unconscionable, it is bad policy.
We have put our criminal justice system in the position of creating health policy. This is especially troubling given the incredible amount of misinformation and misunderstanding about the diagnosis and treatment of NAS and the pervasive myths and stigma associated with drug use and treatment. This law does not help women who live in communities where it is difficult and expensive to seek rehabilitation. It does not do anything to expand services so that low-income parents can complete the required treatment, even though the cost of treatment is just a fraction of the cost of jailing someone. This law is hurting far more people than it could ever help.” Allison Glass, State Director, Healthy and Free TN
“Not only has this law proven ineffective in reducing the number of cases of neonatal abstinence syndrome, the temporary and treatable symptoms of drug use during pregnancy, it is also unconstitutional. Singling out a new mother and treating her differently from other people struggling with addiction violates her constitutional right to equal protection under the law. By focusing on punishing women rather than promoting healthy pregnancies, this law only deters women battling drug dependency from seeking the pre-natal care they need.” Tom Castelli, Legal Director, ACLU-TN
“Those who have been punished for alleged drug use during pregnancy are disproportionately poor women, women of color and rural women. The Tennessee legislature has a responsibility to provide healthcare to women struggling with addiction and keep families intact while they go through treatment.” Cherisse Scott, Founder and CEO, SisterReach
“Using phrases like ‘addicted babies’ is assigning a false and medically inaccurate label to innocent children in order to further a political agenda. A law that discourages women from seeking medical care — whether drug treatment or labor and delivery services — if they need or desire those services is not a law that has the well-being of women or children in mind. It is not a law that needs to be on the books in Tennessee or anywhere.
None of the promises made in association with the passage of this law have been kept. Women who have used no drugs at all have been arrested, women who have used drugs and given birth to perfectly healthy babies have been arrested, and women have been charged with felonies when proponents of the law said they would be charged only with misdemeanor (minor) criminal charges.” Lynn Paltrow, Executive Director, National Advocates for Pregnant Women
“Not only is the law being enforced unevenly throughout the state, it is discriminatory. Laws criminalizing pregnant women disproportionately impact those in the most marginalized positions, including those living in poverty and lacking access to basic health services. Structural discrimination ensures that those in the most marginalized positions will have poorer health outcomes, while also being subject to greater policing and surveillance.” Carrie Eisert, Policy Analyst, Amnesty International
“It is low-income women who utilize non-prescription opioids who have been arrested under Tennessee’s law, but the fact remains that prescription opioids were involved with most of the neonatal abstinence (NAS) cases in Tennessee. National data has shown an overall decrease in the use of prescription opioids, so we would expect a decrease in prescription opioid use in pregnancy, which might lead to fewer cases of NAS. Any change is part of larger drug trends and has nothing to do with specific state legislation. A salient question is: what do these fewer cases actually mean? Providers in the state have reported an increase in home births and travel to out of state by women with opioid use disorder to avoid the criminal penalty associated with their medical condition. A state law that drives women from prenatal care and substance use disorder treatment should not be hailed as a public health success.” Dr. Mishka Terplan, MD, MPH, FACOG, Diplomate ABAM
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