In East Tennessee, prosecutors are charging a woman under a new state law that makes it a crime to be addicted to drugs while pregnant. In response, the American Civil Liberties Union is threatening to sue state officials.
Mallory Loyola and her young daughter both tested positive for amphetamine from the mother’s use of meth, authorities allege.
Loyola, who is 26, now sits in jail. The new law results in a simple assault charge and is intended to decrease the number babies born to drug-addicted moms.
Last year, more than 900 newborns were dependent on drugs in Tennessee.
Babies born dependent on drugs often have stiff limbs and experience seizures. Last year, Tennessee forced hospitals to report these cases to state officials.
The ACLU’s Executive Director Hedy Weinberg says the state needs to treat drug-addicted moms and provide them with adequate health-care services, not threaten to prosecute them.
“We want to work with women, both pregnant women and those who have just given birth, and talk with them about this law and how we can work together to challenge it.”
Weinberg mentioned one possible unintended consequence of the law: It could scare away drug-addicted women from seeking prenatal care, since some might fear prosecution.
Tennessee is the first state to enact such a law, in spite of fierce opposition from women’s advocacy and medical groups.
Although no other state explicitly prosecutes women for taking drugs while pregnant, there are some comparisons in other states. The Alabama Supreme Court last year found that pregnant women can be charged under a law intended to protect children from meth labs. And, according to the Guttmacher Institute, 18 states consider substance abuse during pregnancy to be child abuse under civil child-welfare statutes.