Tennessee Makes It Illegal to Get High While Pregnant

Doing so could land you in jail, starting in July
By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 30, 2014 3:40 PM CDT
Updated May 3, 2014 12:00 PM CDT
Tennessee Makes It Illegal to Get High While Pregnant

Starting July 1, if you're pregnant and use drugs while living in Tennessee, you can be charged with a crime for causing harm to your unborn baby. Gov. Bill Haslam signed the controversial law yesterday, the Tennessean reports. Civil and reproductive rights groups had opposed it, saying it would scare women away from getting treatment for drug addiction, but Haslam said he talked to "experts including substance abuse, mental health, health, and law enforcement officials" before signing the legislation, and will closely monitor its impact. Critics also say the law disproportionately affects low-income and non-white women, ThinkProgress notes.

Using drugs while pregnant was previously criminalized in the state, but decriminalized two years ago as lawmakers moved toward programs encouraging pregnant women to get treatment. But the law is back as the number of babies born dependent on drugs is on the rise. Pregnant drug users can avoid criminal charges if they enter a treatment program, and Haslam is asking doctors to encourage women to enter treatment programs before delivery to avoid being charged. If they don't enter treatment, women charged under the law could face as many as 15 years in jail, NPR reported last week. (More Tennessee stories.)

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