Protect Pregnant Women from Unjust Criminal Prosecution


Target: Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam

Goal: Ensure that women are not criminally prosecuted for their pregnancy outcomes as a result of drug use

With its new controversial law, Tennessee has become the first state in the U.S. that will jail women for their pregnancy outcomes related to illegal drug use. Governor Bill Haslam recently signed the bill against the advice of doctors, addiction experts, and reproductive health groups. They had urged him to veto the measure that grants prosecutors the ability to charge a woman with criminal assault if she uses illegal drugs during her pregnancy and her fetus or newborn is harmed as a result. Let Gov. Haslam know that you disagree with his decision and urge him to adopt alternative measures that fall under the umbrella of health care, where prenatal care belongs.

This law does nothing to expand treatment options for women in the state of Tennessee. Women who seek treatment after arrest may possibly avoid incarceration, but drug treatment providers have expressed concerns that the language of the law does not allow women to seek methadone or buprenorphine maintenance—the recommended treatment for pregnant women addicted to narcotics—as part of their defense. Pregnant women with dependence to narcotics are routinely recommended to receive maintenance treatments rather than detoxification because withdrawal is deemed too risky during pregnancy.

Opponents of the law are worried that a lack of access to health care and treatment facilities will result in the disproportionate targeting and jailing of poor mothers and mothers of color, particularly in rural districts in the state. Several areas within the state offer no treatment facilities and Gov. Haslam refused the Medicare expansion program enacted by President Obama.

Gov. Haslam ignored the recommendations of nearly every major medical association, including the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. The American Medical Association, American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and other major medical associations, along with addiction specialists, have all warned that a law criminalizing pregnant women will only discourage them from seeking prenatal care and drug treatment.

Prenatal care, including drug treatment for expectant mothers addicted to narcotics, is a health care issue, not a criminal one. Urge Gov. Haslam to adopt measures that fall in line with the recommendations of nearly every major medical association and expert in the subject. Help ensure that pregnant women in Tennessee receive the medical care they need, instead of being prosecuted for criminal activity.


Dear Governor Haslam,

I am writing to urge you to reconsider criminalizing women in the state of Tennessee for their pregnancy outcomes related to narcotics use. As every major medical association and multiple addiction experts and doctors have pointed out, this is a health care issue and should be treated accordingly.

As governor, you refused the Medicaid expansion for Tennessee residents, leaving many women without reliable access to basic medical or prenatal care and drug treatment. Just two of the state’s 177 treatment facilities that provide on-site prenatal care and allow older children to stay with their mothers while receiving treatment. Only 19 of those facilities offer any addiction care specifically oriented toward pregnant women.

If your main concern is the welfare of affected fetuses and newborn babies then you will take swift measures to improve the prenatal and overall health care of their mothers. By criminalizing these women instead of offering humane health care options, you are perpetuating a cycle of addiction and suffering for these families.


[Your Name Here]

Photo credit: Canwest News Service via Wikimedia Commons

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