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FACT: This law was intended to help reduce neonatal abstinence syndrome, but reports
show that there has been no decrease ...
FACT: Babies are not born addicted. Some babies
who are exposed to opioids during pregnancy
experience temporary and treat...
Tennessee Organizations Opposing House Bill 1660 and
Supporting the Sunset of the Tennessee Fetal Assault Law
American Civ...
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Coalition opposes harmful bill (HB1660) and fetal assault law


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The Tennessee fetal assault law threatens pregnant women and new mothers who have used drugs with jail time. It is a harmful policy that has made people scared to seek prenatal care and made treatment even harder to access. We have a chance to get rid of it and focus on fair and effective policies. The law is set to sunset (expire) in July. Unfortunately, there was a bill introduced that would permanently extend it.

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Coalition opposes harmful bill (HB1660) and fetal assault law

  1. 1. FACT: This law was intended to help reduce neonatal abstinence syndrome, but reports show that there has been no decrease in NAS cases.3 A Tennessee Department of Health report demonstrated that there were more cases in the first full year of the law (2015) than in the prior year.4 FACT: There is not enough treatment overall, but especially for pregnant mothers. The Tennessee Association of Alcohol, Drugs and Other Addiction Services completed an analysis of the state’s drug treatment programs in December of 2015. They found that waiting lists for care can have hundreds and even over 1000 people on them at any given time. Only 11 of the 39 licensed residential detoxification programs in TN will accept pregnant women providing just 132 slots for all of the people seeking treatment in those facilities. Though pregnant women are a priority for treatment these are not set asides to ensure availability of care for pregnant women. 9 FACT: Health and drug treatment professionals have found that people are avoiding prenatal care in fear of being arrested and jailed. A recent report from East Tennessee Children's Hospital showed a three-fold increase in the number of NICU admissions where mothers had not accessed prenatal care.7 This trend shows a sharp increase in the number of women with no prenatal care after the law went into effect. This was one of the primary concerns expressed before the law went into effect. FACT: Women are in fact being charged and jailed. Warrants have been issued repeatedly in several counties and women arrested repeatedly as a result. In Shelby County, there are women who have served as much as six months in jail. Others are still going through the drug court process and could due to other requirements within the drug court system end up in the system.8 FACT: Many people cannot afford treatment and the fetal assault law does not provide coverage for care. The fetal assault law does not require that treatment be paid for or that bail and court fees be waived, so there are women who cannot afford treatment or who are further engaged in the system because they cannot afford the fees.
  2. 2. FACT: Babies are not born addicted. Some babies who are exposed to opioids during pregnancy experience temporary and treatable symptoms.1 NAS is not life threatening or permanent, and studies show that newborns with NAS do not develop any differently than other children.2 Some children experience manageable health conditions that are likely correlated with the lack of access to health care and proper nutrition that many people who have used drugs face while pregnant. FACT: Medication assisted treatment is the evidence based protocol for pregnant women, which can result in both a positive drug test and symptoms of NAS.6 Health professionals recommended medication assisted treatment, but there are only 12 licensed methadone centers throughout Tennessee and they do not accept TennCare or other health insur- ance. Methadone treatment in Tennessee typically costs $12.50 a day - more than $4,500 a year if taken daily. This can push this treatment option out of reach for many women.9 Bottom line: This law is not working. There may be some women who feel that the law scared them into treatment, but it is hurting far more than it is helping! We are wasting tax dollars to jail mothers when we could allocate those funds to expand access to licensed, evidence based treatment services. 1-Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration, U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, Pub. No. [SMA] 06-4124, Methadone Treatment for Pregnant Women (2006). 2- American College of Obstetricians & Gynecologists, Committee on Health Care for Underserved Women, Opioid Abuse, Dependence, and Addiction in Pregnancy, Committee Opinion No. 524 (May 2012). 3-Number of TN Babies Born Dependent on Drugs, WJHL (November 2015). 4-Tennessee Department of Health, Drug Dependent Newborns (Neonatal Abstinence Syn- drome), Data through 10/31/2015. 5- American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Committee on Ethics, Maternal Decision Making, Ethics, and the Law, 106 Obstetrics & Gynecol- ogy 1127 (2005). 6-Medication-Assisted Treatment For Opioid Addiction in Opioid Treatment Programs, US Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration Center for Substance Abuse Treatment, DHHS Publication No. (SMA) 08-4341 (2008). 7- East Tennessee Children's Hospital, No Prenatal Care Trend, Quarter One 2016. 8- Tracking of Shelby County Arrests and Time Served, Just City (February 2016). 9-Implementation of Chapter 820 and Opportunities to Address Pregnancy, Drug Use and the Law, Tennessee Association of Alcohol, Drugs and Other Addiction Services (December 2015). Brittany Hudson, East Tennessee: I was using drugs while pregnant for my second child. I am not proud of that. I tried to get treatment and was refused care from a bunch of facilities either because they didn’t have room or they didn’t treat pregnant women. I heard about the new law and was terrified that I would lose my baby and be thrown in jail. This just made it worse. I was afraid to ask for help and avoided prenatal care. I ended up giving birth to my daughter on the side of the road trying to avoid going to a hospital in Tennessee. I am clean now and parenting my daughter, but this experience made my recovery process that much harder. This is a disease and you have to treat it like a disease. Mothers need support and care. We need policies that focus on our health and the health of our children. We do not need judges, jails and judgment. We don’t need our faces in newspaper articles that push myths about drug use and paint us as monsters. When you throw someone behind bars for having a disease you aren't treating them and you are not helping them or their kids. This law needs to go. I urge Tennessee lawmakers to look at ways to help people. Don’t just assume the worst of us and keep a law that treats mothers like criminals. This information was compiled by a broad coalition of organizations working to ensure the sunset of the fetal assault law. For more information or to be connected to any of the groups listed, please contact Karen Pershing (
  3. 3. Tennessee Organizations Opposing House Bill 1660 and Supporting the Sunset of the Tennessee Fetal Assault Law American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee (ACLU-TN) American Council of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) – Tennessee Advocates for Women's And Kids' Equality (AWAKE) – Tennessee Association of Women's Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses (AWONN) -Tennessee Children’s Hospital Alliance Chattanooga Organized for Action Counseling Solutions of Chatsworth The First Year Foundation Incorporated Healthy and Free TN Just City Knox County Prescription Drug Task Force Law Students for Reproductive Justice - Vanderbilt March of Dimes Mercy Junction Justice and Peace Center Metro Drug Coalition Multidisciplinary Intensive Support Treatment (MIST) Nashville Feminist Collective National Advocates for Pregnant Women (NAPW) National Alliance for Medication Assisted (NAMA) Recovery of Tennessee National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum – Nashville chapter National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW) – Tennessee section Prevention Alliance of TN Renaissance Recovery SisterReach Tennessee Association of Alcohol, Drug & other Addiction Services (TAADAS) Tennessee Nursing Association Women's Fund of Greater Chattanooga Women’s Foundation for a Greater Memphis Women’s Political Collaborative (WPC) National Medical and Public Health Associations Oppose Laws that Utilize Coercion or Criminalization to Push Treatment American Academy of Addiction Psychiatry American Medical Association American Council of Obstetricians and Gynecologists National Perinatal Association American Nurses Association American Public Health Association Association of Maternal and Child Health Programs American Psychological Association National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence American Psychiatric Association