Pregnant Women Using Drugs Subject To Arrest

In Tennessee, pregnant women who use drugs can be charged with assault, and a new mom recently became the state's first arrest under the new law.

Pregnant woman in hospital

Photo credit: JGI/Jamie Grill/Blend Images/Getty Images

A week ago, Mallory Loyola was arrested after the baby she'd just delivered tested positive for methamphetamine. This gives her the unhappy distinction of the first person to be charged under Tennessee's new law that considers drug use during pregnancy an assault.

New mom behind bars

Tennessee enacted the controversial law earlier this month, and two days after Loyola had her baby, she was in the process of being discharged when officers showed up to take her to jail. As the first to be arrested under this new law, her situation brings the controversial legislation to the forefront: Should mothers be faced with criminal penalties if they use drugs during pregnancy?

Opponents of this law all say the same thing, and I agree — if mothers-to-be fear prosecution, then they may stop seeking prenatal care altogether, which keeps them even further away from the help that they and their babies need. For every mother, like Loyola, who winds up behind bars, how many more are hiding away from "the system" in fear?

How is this good for anyone?

The idea behind the law is that it's hoped the women with substance abuse problems will choose to go through a state-funded drug treatment plan instead of going to jail, but if women are too afraid of being prosecuted, then they may never be identified as having a substance abuse problem.

Considering that if arrested, the newborn is separated from its mother, it's hard to imagine that this law really is in the best interests of all involved. If you consider a postpartum mom, thrown in jail when she needs medical and mental health support the most, it just doesn't seem like a good plan at all.

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