Imagine being arrested two days after having your baby. That’s what happened to Mallory Loyola when Tennessee decided to try out its brand new law. It may have slipped under the radar of many of us –I know it did mine — but the state can now prosecute a woman for using illegal narcotics while pregnant. The law, signed last April by Governor Bill Haslam, specifies that the child be born addicted or harmed by the drug use, though there is no proof that Loyola’s baby is either.
The law was passed to address a specific problem, “Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome,” which is passed to babies in utero by the use of opiates. But Loyola didn’t use any opiates, which is the only type of drug covered by the law. What she did was smoke meth three days before she gave birth. Now, that’s definitely not good, but she should be treated for that specifically, if that’s what is necessary. Meth is not a narcotic and, therefore, not covered under the law. I’m not saying that meth is okay, but it is outside of the jurisdiction granted by this law.
Lynn Paltrow, the executive director of National Advocates for Pregnant Women (NAPW), told Think Progress:
“This law was sold as if it were just about illegal narcotics. But sure enough, the first case has nothing to do with illegal narcotics — and nothing actually to do with harm to anybody. There’s no injury. There’s just a positive drug test.”
And the drug Loyola tested positive for has not been shown to cause harm to a fetus. In fact, several drugs that women are arrested for using while pregnant, are about as harmful as cigarettes. Of course, those shouldn’t be used while pregnant, either, but nobody has ever been arrested for doing so.
Medical groups such as the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and the American Public Health Association, have spoken out against arresting pregnant woman who use drugs. Obviously, everyone would prefer that pregnant women not use drugs, but arrest and incarceration is not the way to deal with it.
“This view of pregnant women essentially means that as soon as you’re carrying a fertilized egg, you’ve lost your medical privacy and your right to make medical decisions. But all matters concerning pregnancy are health care matters. Pregnancy, like other health issues, should be addressed through the public health system and not through the criminal punishment system or the civil child welfare system.”
Of course, like most laws dealing with drugs, this one disproportionately affects low-income women and women of color. Most of these women, having to go to prison, lose custody of their children. Paltrow says that the vast majority of cases that her group has followed involve black women. Oh, there’s a surprise, right?
Tennessee is overstepping its bounds with this law. It is flawed from the outset and has already, with just one case, demonstrated that it was a lie. By arresting Loyola for a drug not even covered by the bill, state authorities have tipped their hand as to the real reason for the law: control. “Do as we say, breeder, or we will throw you in prison.” Someone needs to tell Tennessee lawmakers that “The Handmaid’s Tale” is not a how-to manual.
h/t Think Progress