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Tennessee discontinues controversial fetal assault law

March 27, 2016 at 5:43 PM EST
Tennessee representatives voted to discontinue a controversial law that explicitly allowed prosecutors to charge a mother with fetal assault for using drugs while pregnant. NewsHour's Megan Thompson reports.
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MEGAN THOMPSON: And now an update to a story we first reported in January about the increasing number of pregnant women who are struggling with opioid addiction.

As a result, the number of babies born withdrawing from those drugs taken by their mothers, has also skyrocketed.

Tennessee is among the states hardest hit by this epidemic. It has the second-highest rate of opioid prescribing in the U.S. And the rate of babies born withdrawing from opioids is three times the national average.

In response, two years ago, Tennessee became the only state that explicitly allowed prosecutors to charge a mother with “fetal assault” for using drugs while pregnant.

Sponsors of the law say it was not intended to penalize women but to get them into treatment and protect the welfare of their babies.

But in a hearing this past week, Tennessee representatives voted to discontinue the controversial law which is set to expire in July 2016.

The measure was found not to help those women and to have unintended consequences.

Doctors testified that the threat of arrest kept many addicted pregnant women from seeking treatment and medical care. Other critics say addicts were choosing abortion over being found out and prosecuted.

At the hearing, lawmakers also discussed increasing funding for drug treatment programs.

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