Memphis Prosecutor: Charging Drug-Addicted Moms Gets Them Into Rehab

Shelby County District Attorney Amy Weirich says a handful of mothers were funneled intro drug court using a Class A misdemeanor, but that law was undone in February by a ruling from the state attorney general. (Image credit WPLN / Daniel Potter)

Shelby County District Attorney Amy Weirich says a handful of mothers were funneled intro drug court using a Class A misdemeanor, but that law was undone in February by a ruling from the state attorney general. (Image credit WPLN / Daniel Potter)

Pregnant women addicted to painkillers could be charged with assault of their newborn, under a proposal discussed Tuesday by Tennessee lawmakers.  Some worry it could spur such women to seek an abortion, but backers argue it’s a way to get them into rehab.

A district attorney from Memphis says until a few months ago, she could charge drug-addicted moms with a misdemeanor.  But the legal footing changed (PDF here).  Shelby County DA Amy Weirich says she lost a useful tool for pulling moms into drug court and treatment.

“We are wanting to prosecute the women – after the birth, not while pregnant – with an eye toward rehabilitation, using the velvet hammer that we have of drug court.”

Others who spoke to lawmakers worried using a law to threaten pregnant women who are on drugs would drive more to seek an abortion.  Weirich argues it’s not an issue:

“As one woman told us when we asked her that, she said, ‘Look, if I’ve got money to pay for an abortion, I’m going to buy drugs with it.’”

Sen. Reginald Tate (D-Memphis), who is carrying the proposal, acknowledged the matter is complicated, but after the meeting said if a new law could save even one child, it’d be worth it.


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