Tennessee’s fetal-assault statute passed in the spring of 2014, part of the state’s efforts to combat an opioid addiction epidemic. But, thanks to a sunset provision, the portion of the law criminalizing pregnant women’s drug use is set to expire this summer, in July.
This week, state lawmakers will have to decide whether to “let this measure expire or to pass a bill permanently prohibiting chemical endangerment in Tennessee,” reports Nina Liss-Schultz. The new measure permits the state to prosecute women for illegally using narcotics while pregnant, if the child is born addicted to the drugs—and is the first law of its kind in the nation.
Since 2014, an estimated 100 women have been arrested, mostly for using prescription painkillers and heroin. Many more avoid prenatal care fearing such arrest.
Another major pitfall of the law, advocates argue, is that pregnant women can be arrested and charged with fetal assault for all kinds of “illegal” behavior, including not wearing a seatbelt.