It beggars belief, but a new law just approved by the General Assembly will mean that women who either lose their babies during pregnancy or give birth to babies with defects could be charged with assault. The law will be implemented in Tennessee, USA.

Senate Bill 1391 is intended to deal with the issue of narcotic addiction during pregnancy, and as Social Work Helper explains, looks to tackle Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome, which is where a newborn is exposed to addictive illegal or prescription drugs in the womb. As you might imagine, babies who have been exposed to such chemicals can be born with health problems, or die prematurely as a result.

The relevant Section of the Bill, Section 4, states:

“…nothing in the section shall preclude prosecution of a woman for an assaultive offense for the illegal use of a narcotic drug while pregnant, if her child is born addicted to or harmed by the narcotic drugs or for criminal homicide if her child dies as a result of her illegal use of a narcotic drug taken while pregnant.”

You can see where the Bill is coming from, but we already know that criminalising vulnerable people doesn’t work and won’t solve the core issues within these cases.

Social Work Helper claims that the Bill is a way to get mothers into treatment – by pressurising them into getting help in order to avoid prosecution. They also point out that much like our system, imprisoning women in this situation, many of whom will already be mothers to other children and perhaps also the main breadwinner in the family, will only lead to bleaker outcomes for these women, and countless children caught up in the process.

More worryingly is the suggestion that there is no evidence base for this Bill, that it may pressurise women into having abortions and that it may end up targeting ethnic minorities, too.

If ever there was a time for the world to review its legal systems, in all their ‘gory’, it is now.