New TN drug pregnancy law condemned by civil liberties, health officials

A new TN law that allows drug addicted pregnant women to be charged with assault has garnered widespread criticism.

First woman has been charged under controversial new legislation

A highly controversial new Tennessee law that defines narcotic drug use during pregnancy as a form of assault is garnering criticism from both civil liberties groups and healthcare advocates, according to ABC News. A Knoxville woman was recently the first person charged under the new law, reports Time. Critics say the law violates women's constitutional rights and could deter drug addicts from seeking medical treatment.

Drug use as assault

The new law, which went into effect July 1, allows law enforcement officials to charge women with assault if they use illegal drugs while pregnant. The first woman to be charged under the law admitted to using meth prior to giving birth to her child. Both the woman and her newborn child tested positive for meth. She now faces up to one year in prison.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee says it plans to challenge the constitutionality of the law. The group claims there are serious questions regarding equal treatment under the law that are raised by the legislation. As one woman's rights advocate pointed out, since drug use is rarely criminalized (drug possession and trafficking are), a component of the law essentially criminalizes pregnancy for some individuals. She said that the law means that pregnant women lose some of their civil rights due to the simple fact that they are pregnant.

Health advocates call law dangerous

Healthcare advocates are also condemning the law, saying it will do little to solve drug addiction and could end up making the problem worse. They point out that even though the law allows drug addicted pregnant women to enter rehabilitation as part of their defense, many women are likely to be unaware of the specifics of the law. In many cases, pregnant women with drug addiction problems may avoid seeking medical care over fears that they will be arrested, thus putting the health of themselves and their unborn children at risk.

Other advocates also point out that the law could end up harming the children it is ostensibly designed to protect. By jailing mothers for assault, the law tears mothers away from their children, which experts say is rarely in the best interests of the child. Instead, they say, drug addiction should be treated as a public health problem rather than a criminal matter.

Drug and criminal charges

The above story offers some troubling news for people in Tennessee who are currently struggling with drug addiction and it highlights just how seriously state authorities treat drug crimes.

Anybody who has been charged with a drug or other criminal offense should contact an experienced criminal defense attorney right away. With proper legal guidance, an accused client will have the help he or she needs to fight against a criminal charge and make sure his or her rights are properly upheld under the law.

Keywords: drug laws, assault, pregnancy