Tennessee bill would prosecute women who use drugs while pregnant

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A bill that would prosecute mothers of babies dependent on drugs is making its way through the Tennessee Senate. 

According to SB0659, women who use narcotics while pregnant could face prosecution if the baby is born addicted.

For mothers like Angie Odom, she said this bill would give her daughter a voice. 

Her adoptive daughter, Bella, was born with neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) in 2012. 

“Drugs have affected Bella’s life, a choice that she never made effects how she is able to make choices throughout the day and to me, that is what is so sad,” Odom said.

Data from the Tennessee Department of Health shows Northeast Tennessee leads the state in babies born dependent on drugs. 

As for Odom, she supports the bill that would punish women who have babies born with NAS, unless they seek treatment during their pregnancy. 

“Is that fair? For that child to not have a voice at all,” Odom said. “So it’s a matter of saying ‘Ok it’s recovery or jail.”

Sullivan County District Attorney General Barry Staubus said the bill needs some adjustments.

“It’s restricted to narcotics which means that if mothers take very dangerous drugs like meth, meth is not classified as a narcotic,” Staubus said. “I think if this proposal goes forward, it needs to be expanded to control substances like meth, not just narcotics. So I think the bill is limited, that would cut a whole class of women that might be meth addicts from getting into programs under this law.”

For Coree Schmidd, a therapist at Watauga Behavioral Health Services in Johnson City, she said she already saw the impact of the fetal assault bill in 2014.

“I don’t think it got any women into treatment,” Schmidd said. “I’m not aware of any prosecutions that actually happened. I think it’s a deterrent. I think it’s fear based. 

It’s a bill Sen. Rusty Crowe of Johnson City said he wouldn’t support.

“It just didn’t seem to work,” Crowe said over the phone. “Women were actually leaving the state to have their babies, they were avoiding prenatal care which is not good especially for these moms who are having these problems and are going to have problems when they are born.”

The bill in 2014 expired after two years.

The current bill, which would be permanent, is moving through committees. If passed, the new law will take effect on July 1.

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