Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Unless Haslam Vetos It, Miscarriages are About to be Crimes

Posted By on Wed, Apr 16, 2014 at 5:30 AM

Usually, I like to gloat when I'm right about something, but it brings me no joy to see Tennessee moving toward the criminalization of miscarriages. I can't imagine what it would be like to suffer through a miscarriage and then have to call the police so that they can come and investigate me, to see if I fucked up my pregnancy in some way. But it's been obvious for a while that this was the way we were headed. And now here we are.

Women's rights groups have been trying to raise the alarm about SB1391, which allows prosecutors to go after women who give birth to babies who are addicted to drugs or whose babies die because of drug use, but there hasn't been much outcry here in the state.

Tara Culp-Ressler over at Think Progress explains the many problems with this bill — that it's scientifically inaccurate to describe newborn babies as "addicted," that there's little proof that illegal drug use by pregnant women has long-term harmful consequences for babies, that this will disproportionately hurt women who are poor and of color, and, as I said, it adds to the tragedy of miscarriage, since it seems impossible to determine if, and I'm quoting from the bill here, "if her child dies as a result of her illegal use of a narcotic drug taken while pregnant" unless you investigate every miscarriage to see if the mother was illegally using narcotics.

If you're thinking this will encourage drug-addicted pregnant women to go to rehab, Culp-Ressler points out, "Only 19 of the state’s 177 addiction treatment facilities currently provide care for pregnant women, an issue that SB 1391 doesn’t address whatsoever."

So, let's be clear what this means — if you're raped in a place in Tennessee, like Memphis, where they just can't be bothered to process the kits (and the state can't be bothered to force them to, because of the cost) and you become pregnant and the event is so traumatic to you that you turn to drugs, it will be nearly impossible for you to get a bed in rehab and the state will hold you criminally responsible if you can't produce a baby that meets the state's standards. That's the state's priority over getting you justice.

And of course Governor Haslam is going to sign this bill. Because, despite all our lip-service about wanting Tennesseans to be free from government intrusion, that doesn't apply to women.

So, I'm going to make this prediction — this bill will become law and the law will stand until the inevitable moment when either some overzealous prosecutor goes after a powerful woman who has a miscarriage and we see the big media blow-up with the sad story of how she lost a very-much wanted child and was falsely accused of basically murder and the intrusive investigation into the miscarriage will be so disgusting that the state recoils from innocent women being treated this way and the law remains on the books, but stops being enforced OR pregnant known addicts will be jailed to keep their fetuses safe, but the medical care in the jails will be inadequate and babies will die and everyone will be outraged and the law will remain on the books, but not enforced.

Because the truth is that as natural as having a baby is, it's still dangerous and the outcome is uncertain. It'd be great if every miscarriage was caused by maternal negligence, because then we could work to end them. But miscarriages are very common and they happen to women who do everything right. A lot of innocent women are going to be harmed by this bill and a lot of "guilty" women are not going to receive the medical care they need.

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