Proposed Tenn. law would prosecute drug-addicted pregnant women

Proposed Tennessee law would prosecute drug-addicted pregnant women

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By SAMANTHA MANNING
6 News Reporter

KNOXVILLE (WATE) - Tennessee lawmakers are considering a bill that allows pregnant mothers with drug addictions to face criminal punishment if the baby is harmed.

The State Senate passed a bill Monday. The State House of Representatives will vote Wednesday on the bill.

The latest bills, HB 1295 and SB 1391, aim to change a previous law which eliminated the criminal penalty.

Evangaline "Red" Smith suffered from addiction for 20 years. She has been sober for 19 months and receives treatment from Peninsula Outpatient Centers.

"I had a probably $300 to $500 a day habit," Smith said. "I abused any and all prescription medication, as well as nerve pills as well as marijuana and alcohol."

Smith said she abused drugs only a week before learning she was pregnant with her son Darrian 19 years ago.

Fortunately, Smith stopped using drugs for the rest of her pregnancy and her son was a healthy newborn. She acknowledges quitting that addiction is not an easy task, even for mothers-to-be.

"Even though they want to get clean and sober for their sake and for their baby's sake, sometimes the drugs are just too powerful," Smith said.

The bills moving along in the legislature would allow a mother to be prosecuted for an assaultive offense or homicide if she takes an illegal drug while pregnant and the baby is addicted, harmed or dies because of the drug use.

Manager or Recovery Services at Peninsula Outpatient Centers Mary Nelle Osborne said that the state should make a financial investment in treatment options in order for the system to be effective.

"If we do that, then we need to make sure that there is treatment and recovery available in jails," Osborne said. "Putting somebody behind bars is going to keep them, perhaps, from using, but what happens when they get out?"

Smith said that she believes addicted mothers should first be offered treatment options but believes if that fails, prosecution may be the best option.

"I believe that all women should be given that one chance," Smith said. "But if she goes through it, and drops out, and goes back to her addiction and gives birth to a chemically dependent child, then I do think she should be prosecuted."

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