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Tennessee law make moms pay for drinking and smoking during pregnancy

A new Tennessee law criminalizes moms for drinking and smoking during pregnancy if the fetus or newborn are harmed.
Photo by Joe Raedle

Sadly, many women choose to smoke and drink during pregnancy, but a new law passed in Tennessee may make women in the state think twice. The law, that criminalizes the pregnancy outcomes if the fetus or newborn is considered harmed due to the mother’s actions, is receiving both praise and criticism.

Tennessee is the first state to pass such a law. According to Salon, after taking the allotted ten days to consider advice of doctors, addiction experts, reproductive health groups, and even the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy who all urged the bill be vetoed, Republican Gov. Bill Haslam signed the law into effect anyway.

Opponents of the law, including Republican state Sen. Mike Bell, feel the law could actually backfire and cause women addicts to forego medical treatment during pregnancy to avoid being arrested. This behavior could result in dire consequences for both mother and child.

Challengers of the law also feel that a disproportionate amount of poor mothers, mothers of color, and mothers in rural districts throughout the state will be likely targeted and jailed due to inadequate access to healthcare and treatment options. Today, only 19 of the state’s 177 addiction treatment facilities offer any addiction care specifically oriented toward pregnant women.

Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that alcohol use levels prior to pregnancy are a strong predictor of alcohol use during pregnancy. Many women who drink alcohol continue to drink during the early weeks of pregnancy because they do not realize that they are pregnant, and only about 40% of women realize that they are pregnant at 4 weeks of gestation, a critical period for organ development.

A CDC study also revealed that 8 percent of pregnant women report alcohol use, and researchers found 1.4 percent of pregnant women reported binge drinking. On its website, the CDC warns, “There is no known safe amount of alcohol use during pregnancy or while trying to get pregnant. There is also no safe time during pregnancy to drink. All types of alcohol are equally harmful, including all wines and beer. When a pregnant woman drinks alcohol, so does her baby.”