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Tell Gov. Haslam: VETO TN Pregnancy Criminalization Law

By Rebecca Terrell on 15-Apr-14 15:12. Comments (0)
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Many of us working on behalf of children, women and families in Tennessee were appalled at the passage last week in Nashville of The Pregnancy Criminalization Law (SB1391).  This law was promoted by prosecutors against the recommendations of medical professionals and addiction specialists. It permits the arrest and incarceration of any woman who can’t guarantee the birth of a healthy newborn, and is completely out of step with the most effective standards of care for maternity care, addiction treatment, and neonatal care.  

Babies thrive best when their mothers get prenatal care and can bond with them every day from birth through their second birthday. Mothers recover best in treatment for addiction when they can stay with their babies and families. The threat of criminalization scares pregnant mothers away from prenatal care and drug treatment, and then mandates separating them from their babies just when they need each other the most. Desperate women who can’t afford private treatment for their addiction may decide to abort wanted pregnancies in order to avoid arrest and/or risk losing custody of older children.

Only two of Tennessee's 177 addiction treatment facilities provide prenatal care on site and allow older children to stay with their mothers, and only 19 provide any addiction care for pregnant women. The Pregnancy Criminalization Law does nothing to expand services so that low-income parents can complete the required treatment, even though it costs less than a third as much as jailing them. Pregnancy criminalization will cost families months or even years of valuable time together, while the state pays outrageous bills for unnecessary incarceration and foster care.

Criminalizing pregnancy outcomes is bad medicine for families whose health and pregnancies are already at higher risk from poverty, particularly impacting women of color. The Pregnancy Criminalization Law is bad medicine for a state economy that's better off when parents have access to the resources and family health services they need to care for their own children.

We urge Tennessee voters to join us in demanding Governor Haslam’s veto of this dangerous law.

What you can do:

  • If you are a physician or a professional involved in treatment of pregnant women, children, or families: We urge you to call the Governor's office TODAY and explain to him how dangerous SB 1391 is.

Office of Governor Bill Haslam

(615) 741-2001

1st Floor, State Capitol

Nashville, TN 37243  





Let Governor Haslam know: 

  • Criminalizing mothers is bad for babies. As every leading medical group to address this issue has concluded, such laws will deter women from what care is available, create incentives for unwanted abortions by women who cannot guarantee healthy birth outcomes, and will not increase access to treatment. 
  • Prosecutors are not doctors, and jails aren't treatment. Allowing police and prosecutors to oversee pregnancy, maternity care, and family health is dangerous and counterproductive.
  • The "defenses" to the law are at best a fairytale. Portions of the law that appear to provide treatment as an alternative to arrest provide no protection for women addicted to narcotics. For example, the law excludes methadone and other ongoing maintenance treatments by requiring women to "complete a program" to avoid incarceration.

Please act now to ensure that Tennessee women most in need of compassionate care are given health care, not handcuffs.


Thank you for supporting sexual health and reproductive freedom in Tennessee!