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Tennessee Advocates Speak Out Against Pregnancy Criminalization

Read more of our coverage on the Tennessee Pregnancy Criminalization Law here.

On April 15, Rewire hosted an audio press call on the Tennessee Pregnancy Criminalization Law, SB 1391, and was joined by representatives from SisterReach, Healthy & Free Tennessee, and the National Advocates for Pregnant Women.

Use the player above to listen to an audio recording of this call or click here to download the recording.

Click here for a press packet containing the advisory, press releases, an open letter signed by dozens of allied organizations, and contact information.

A coalition of Tennessee groups is calling on Gov. Bill Haslam to veto SB 1391, the Pregnancy Criminalization Law (also HB 1295) because, according to the coalition, “neither the born nor the unborn are protected when police and prosecutors can decide what is best for pregnant women and new mothers.”

“This law is bad medicine for Tennessee families,” said Cherisse Scott, founder and CEO of SisterReach. “It was promoted by prosecutors against the recommendations of medical professionals, permits arrest and incarceration of women who cannot guarantee that their newborn is in perfect health, and creates a separate and unequal law for women allowing their arrest if they are pregnant and struggling with addiction.”

“Making matters worse,” said Monica Simpson, executive director of SisterSong, “treatment for pregnant women in Tennessee is largely unavailable. So pregnant women seeking help are put into a double bind, subject to arrest but not able to seek treatment.”

“Criminalizing pregnancy outcomes scares women away from prenatal care and drug treatment,” said Farah Diaz-Tello, staff attorney with the National Advocates for Pregnant Women, “and mandates separating mothers from their babies just when they need each other the most. Women who cannot afford private treatment for their addiction and who fear arrest and separation from children they already have may feel as though abortion is the only way to keep their current families together.”

The Pregnancy Criminalization Law does nothing to expand services so that low-income parents can obtain treatment, though it costs less than a third as much as jailing them. It is also out of step with Tennessee’s Safe Harbor Act, passed last year to lessen the threat of punishment and encourage women to seek treatment. Pregnancy criminalization on these terms could cost families months or even years of irreplaceable time together, while the state pays outrageous bills for unnecessary incarceration and foster care.