The American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee has issued a call for plaintiffs to help challenge a new state law that allows prosecutors to criminalize women who give birth to drug-dependent babies.
The ACLU launched the search following the arrest of the first woman to be charged under the law. Monroe County resident Mallory Loyola, 26, was arrested two days after giving birth to a baby girl who tested positive for amphetamine, according to WBIR-TV of Knoxville.
"It's sad to see a child not getting an opportunity," Monroe County Sheriff Bill Bivens told 10News. "We want to see our children have a chance in life."
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But opponents to the law, such as the ACLU, say that the threat of arrest will only prevent women who need treatment for substance abuse problems from getting help.
"By focusing on punishing women rather than promoting healthy pregnancies, the state is only deterring women struggling with alcohol or drug dependency from seeking the pre-natal care they need," said Thomas Castelli, legal director of the ACLU of Tennessee, in a statement. "This dangerous law unconstitutionally singles out new mothers struggling with addiction for criminal assault charges."
The law was passed by the legislature this past April. Proponents said it was a way to shuffle addicted women into drug courts while enforcing consequences for harming their children.
Tennessee is facing an epidemic of drug dependent babies, much of it due to over-prescription of opiate painkillers. In fact, the state has the second-highest rate in the country of over-prescription of narcotics.
Babies who withdraw from certain narcotics, including opiates such as OxyContin and Hydrocodone, can experience painful withdrawal symptoms, a condition called neonatal abstinence syndrome, or NAS. There were 921 babies born in such condition in the state last year.
A baby born with amphetamine in the system could have other medical problems, but would not be diagnosed with NAS.