Should Pregnant TN Moms On Drugs Be Charged With Assault?

The condition of newborns dependent on drugs is sometimes called NAS, or neonatal abstinence syndrome.  It can stem from illegally obtained painkillers, or in many cases legally prescribed drugs, ranging from Xanax to Methadone. (Image credit Tennessee Department of Health)

The condition of newborns dependent on drugs is sometimes called NAS, or neonatal abstinence syndrome. It can stem from illegally obtained painkillers, or in many cases legally prescribed drugs, ranging from Xanax to Methadone. (Image credit Tennessee Department of Health)

Tennessee lawmakers are set Tuesday morning to discuss punishing moms whose addiction hurts their newborn child.More than 700 babies have been born this year in Tennessee with a painful, drug-dependent condition (PDF here), as in this video from the Department of Health.

This spring lawmakers passed a “safe-harbor” law to coax addicted mothers into rehab, with the assurance then the state won’t take their baby away.  But others have advocated a tougher approach – one that would charge pregnant moms taking drugs illegally with assault, or possibly homicide if the child dies.  Republican Ken Yager fear that’s going too far:

“This problem is so pervasive that you’ll never be able to arrest your way out of it.”

Yager helped pass the safe harbor law, and is now urging fellow senators to be careful with the punitive approach.  He says it could backfire, if it drives a woman fearing jail time to seek an abortion.

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The Tennessee legislature’s Senate Judiciary Committee is set to take up the issue again Tuesday at 9 a.m.


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