Allow Women to Maintain Rights While Pregnant 


Target: Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam

Goal: Reverse legislation that strips women of their medical rights unrelated to their pregnancy

In Tennessee, a young woman gave birth to a healthy baby. Two days later, the police arrested her. The arrest came from a new law wherein the state can arrest new or expecting mothers for the potential use of narcotics. The law was put in place to protect babies from the harmful effects of the mother’s use of narcotics. This woman was the first to be arrested under the pretense of this law.

If a child is born addled with narcotic addiction, then the mother can be arrested. However, in the case of this young woman, she was not using narcotics. However, she did test positive for methamphetamine. While women are warned not to be smoking anything while pregnant, meth is shown to have negative effects similar to cigarettes — harmful, but not grounds for arrest. The law was put in place in response to issues with narcotics such as heroin and prescription painkillers. Narcotic use can be detrimental to a baby’s health.

This unnecessary arrest displays a bigger issue with this law. Instead of giving a drug-addicted new mother the help that she needs, the state just arrested her. With this new law in place, Tennessee pregnant women are now going to unlicensed doctors so that their drug use is off the record and their doctor won’t report them to the police. Threatening women with criminal charges is not the way to stop a drug problem. Instead, it is a way for women to seek unlicensed, and often more dangerous, help.

Another huge issue with this law is its inherent disposition to target low-income women. If a woman is struggling with drug addiction, and is pregnant, she should have access to help, not to jail. Several justice and human rights groups in Tennessee have launched “Healthcare not Handcuffs” which proposes to remove this legislation and replace it with something helpful. Sign this petition to support the mission of Healthcare not Handcuffs by asking the Governor of Tennessee to reverse this dangerous piece of legislation.


Dear Governor Haslam,

We understand the idea behind your recent legislation to criminalize narcotics addictions while pregnant. While the intentions are good — preventing drug use for pregnant women — the law does not truly address any problems.

The first arrest under this law was a woman who ended up not even testing positive for narcotics. She had smoked meth, which is bad, but not quite as harmful to the baby. Either way, the law failed to do its job. Throwing women in jail for being addicted while pregnant is not going to help anyone. The mother may lose custody of her child before she even has a chance to meet her. Going to jail does not help with drug addiction, it just puts it off. Also, the law is causing women to seek unlicensed medical help so that they can avoid arrest, which is even more dangerous for the baby.

Because of the law’s ineffectiveness, we are calling on you to get rid of it. As many civil groups in your state are saying, women who are addicted to narcotics and are pregnant need healthcare, not handcuffs. To solve a problem as complex as drug addiction, you need to address the problem, and not just put a bandaid — in this case, jail — over it.


[Your Name Here]

Photo credit: Calvero via Wikipedia Commons

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56 Signatures

  • sheila childs
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