Tennessee women who use drugs while pregnant will be allowed to be criminally charged for harm done to their infants.
Gov. Bill Haslam signed the legislation today after "extensive conversations with experts including substance abuse, mental health, health and law enforcement officials," he wrote in a statement. "The intent of this bill is to give law enforcement and district attorneys a tool to address illicit drug use among pregnant women through treatment programs."
The governor's decision comes after a week of mounting nationwide opposition from civil and reproductive rights groups that worried criminalization will drive vulnerable women away from drug addiction treatment.
"I understand the concerns about this bill, and I will be monitoring the impact of the law through regular updates with the court system and health professionals," Haslam wrote Tuesday.
The law brings back criminalization, which lawmakers had eliminated two years ago as the state moved toward programs that incentivize expecting mothers to get into treatment.
Tennessee officials have wrestled with what to do about the growing numbers of infants born dependent on drugs and who often suffer from a condition known as neonatal abstinence syndrome.
Prosecutors will again be able to bring charges.
The legislation would allow mothers to avoid criminal charges if they get into one of the state's few treatment programs.
The proposal also includes a sunset provision that means the criminal penalty will be in effect until 2016, when lawmakers will have to revisit whether arresting women has an impact on the number of drug-dependent births, and whether to continue the criminal penalty.
Opponents, including many medical organizations and doctors who treat pregnant women, worry that criminalization will scare women away from treatment and reverse last year's Safe Harbor Act, a law that protected the custody rights of mothers and gave them priority placement into the state's limited treatment programs.
Abuse of prescription painkillers has fueled a tenfold increase in such births in the past decade, sending health officials into a scramble. There were 921 drug-dependent births in 2013 and 253 so far this year.