“The state where giving birth can be criminal.” The stories in this investigative report by The Nation should fill us with rage. Sponsored by four idle and felonious state senators—Reginald Tate (D), Janice Bowling (R), Todd Gardenhire (R), and Charlotte Burks (D)—a new law imposed criminal penalties on mothers who give birth to babies considered to be “drug-addicted” due to the mother’s illegal narcotic use during pregnancy. All of the Democratic state senators voted for the legislation, and only seven Republican senators voted against it.
This is the very definition of immoral legislation. First, in an attempt to criminalize the harm to an infant resulting from drug use, it actually criminalizes giving birth. Tennessee is a state in which abortion is legal before fetal viability. This law encourages drug-addicted mothers, especially those for whom pregnancy may be an unexpected hardship, to abort their unborn children rather than seek the compassionate care they need.
Second, the law separates the interests of the mother and the child. It is not in the mother’s interest to suffer criminal prosecution on account of giving birth. It is usually not in the baby’s interest to be deprived of its mother. Wise, compassionate legislation would unite the interests of the mother and child, rather than making them legal enemies.
Third, the legislation ignores the social and economic circumstances of drug addiction. Use of illegal narcotics is most common among the poor and economically fragile. These people also have the fewest avenues for treatment and rehabilitation, and the highest likelihood of unstable family structures. Thus, rather than helping to mitigate these circumstances, the law unfairly targets the poor.
State legislators—especially Republicans, who are supposed to be pro-life, and incidentally control the Tennessee legislature—must repent of their callous behavior toward poor single mothers and their children. This Christmas, let’s renew our devotion to the Holy Family by supporting all mothers and children in difficult circumstances.