While meeting in Nashville April 16-19, 2015 CWACM engaged SB 1391, the recently passed law in Tennessee that criminalizes women for their pregnancy outcomes. This law allows prosecutors to charge women with criminal simple assault (up to 15 years imprisonment) if she is found to have prescribed or illegal drugs in her system upon labor and delivery.
The Church Within A Church Movement will partner with SisterReach, a Tennessee-based reproductive justice group that is doing extraordinary work to address the impact of the law. The issue of reproductive justice is increasingly coming into focus as access to rehabilitative services, mental health and healthcare are out of reach for marginalized women throughout the state of Tennessee. Healthy relationships and communication between low-income patients and their doctors is being threatened as doctors have been positioned to police expectant mothers’ behavior causing yet another opportunity to stigmatize women of color and poor mothers.
CWACM’s Anti-Oppression Team, who has been tasked by CWACM to investigate and inform the Coordinating team in issues relating to the Intersection of Oppression has been in conversation with Cherisse Scott, the founder and CEO of SisterReach to explore partnering with their organization in ways that would further their mission of providing support and resources to the people most affected by laws of this nature.
CWACM has agreed to sign an open letter encouraging Governor Haslam, Lt. Gov. Ramsey and Speaker Harwell to continue to fight to provide affordable options for health coverage to the 280,000 people in the coverage gap, and will make a monetary contribution to help with their work. The AOT will continue to be in conversation with SisterReach to explore other areas of collaboration.
The following talking points were provided to CWACM by SisterReach as a way of engaging the conversation regarding the impact of these laws.
Criminalizing pregnant mothers is a threat to the health and well-being of Tennessee babies, women, and families.
- Drives women away from prenatal care and treatment. Doctors recognize prenatal care as the most important component of healthier outcomes for both the baby and the mother.
- Does nothing to make treatment, prenatal care or other supportive services more available.
- Deprives newborn babies of medically recommended parental bonding, which is especially important when a child is struggling in NICU treatment.
- Low-income women, especially those from communities of color, have the fewest resources to navigate the courts and keep their families together.
- Families with the least amount of support are going to be torn apart, not strengthened.
- Desperate women may have unwanted abortions for wanted pregnancies to avoid arrest or losing custody of older children.
- Healthy parent-child relationships are supported by modeling patience and warmth. Parents dealing with the stresses of poverty and poor health need considerate medical attention, not the harshness of the criminal justice system.
Addiction is an illness. Pregnant women struggling with addiction need access to prenatal care and treatment, not jail time.
- Drug addiction isn’t a choice, it is a health problem.
- Addiction is worsened by poverty and lack of opportunity to resources for daily living. Rich people can access medical care. Poor people go to jail. Jails and prisons are not health care facilities.
- The treatment “option” in the legislation is only an affirmative defense. Being in treatment does not prevent arrest or prosecution. Asserting this defense requires having a lawyer who will bother to do that. It is an arrest first, inquire about treatment later.
- Only two of the state’s 177 addiction treatment facilities provide prenatal care onsite (both located in Davidson County) and only 19 provide addiction care for pregnant women.
- Medical authorities agree that addiction is a health problem. Health care is best managed by doctors and nurses, not courts and jails.
- This bill was driven by prosecutors and whipped by legislators with total disregard of recommendations from medical professionals, and it’s out of step with the recommended standard of care for families struggling with addiction.
- The standard of care for addiction treatment during pregnancy is methadone maintenance, with detox not taking place until after the child is born.
- Public health research following the “crack babies” scare that started in the 1980s showed that poverty and lack of health care were responsible for more and greater harm than mothers’ substance dependency.
Criminalizing Pregnant Mothers is a cost burden to taxpayers:
- Rehabilitation programs are a better investment of taxpayer dollars than incarceration.
- Estimated costs of treatment programs are a fraction of what it costs to incarcerate someone (about $4800 per year compared to a $17k per year) if a mother is incarcerated.
- Our state’s shared economy will be stronger when parents have access to the resources, family health services, and education they need to raise their own children.
- Putting children in foster care and estranging them from their parents is not only expensive, it can create worse mental health outcomes and further unravels marginalized communities.