Should pregnant drug addicts be charged with ‘assault against their baby’?

A new law has been proposed that will allow criminal assault charges to be brought against women who take drugs during their pregnancy - but is this the answer to addiction during pregnancy?


by Kayleigh Dray |
Published on

The Tennessee Senate and House have passed a measure that will allow criminal assault charges to be brought against women who use drugs during their pregnancy.

“Some people need assistance, and some people need intervention”

The bill would allow pregnant women in Tennessee to be prosecuted and charged with assault for using illegal drugs during pregnancy, or if the child is born “addicted to or harmed by the narcotic drug”.

The woman could also be prosecuted with murder if the child dies as a result of her drug use.

The legislation has yet to be signed or vetoed by Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam - but is it a good idea to bring criminal charges against women who use drugs while pregnant?

On the surface, yes, it seems to make sense. Nobody wants to see a woman use hard drugs, such as cocaine or heroin, while pregnant. And nobody wants to see a baby born with an addiction.

But could the legislation do more harm than good?

Should we punish pregnant drug addicts - or help them?
Should we punish pregnant drug addicts - or help them?

Allison Glass, of Healthy And Free Tennessee, told Cosmopolitan: “Women who are addicted will no longer go to their prenatal health appointments or if they do go, they won’t be honest with their doctors because they’re afraid to end up in jail.”

Punishing women who resort to drug use during pregnancy could stop them from seeking prenatal care - and the legislation will only punish the mothers, not the fathers. Surely there should be a shared responsibility? And what about women who drink alcohol or smoke cigarettes during their pregnancy? Should they not be prosecuted too?

However, with 921 babies born in Tennessee with symptoms of NAS (neonatal abstinence syndrome) in 2013 alone, perhaps the legislation is a good idea.

Representative Weaver insists that the bill is meant to help drug-addicted pregnant women, whom she dubbed “the worst of the worst,” to get help:

“Some people need assistance, and some people need intervention.”

If we are to punish women for taking drugs while pregnant, should we also punish them for smoking and drinking?

Whether or not this legislation is pushed through in Tennessee, it raises an important question; should we be punishing pregnant drug addicts - or working hard to get them the help they need to fight their addiction and become better mothers?

Let us know your thoughts in the Comments Box below.

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