Meet 34-year-old new mother Tonya Martin. Oh, wait, you can’t, because she’s dead. Like at least nine other pregnant women in Tennessee who tested positive for illegal drugs after giving birth, Martin got thrown into jail and her baby got taken away and later put up for adoption.
The Nation reports that two months later — on Nov. 13th — Martin went outside into her yard in the dead of night and hung herself.
This year, Tennessee passed two cruel and inhumane laws that criminalize pregnant women. Last spring, SB 1391 allowed the state to arrest and press criminal charges against women who use drugs while pregnant (and, of course, hospitals and clinics are more likely to test low-income women of color). And of course the law creates no new openings or funding for pregnant women to get treatment for their drug addictions.
Then, in November, voters took it up a notch and passed JR 137, an amendment to the state constitution that overturns a pro-choice US Supreme Court decision and paves the way for banning all forms of abortion in the state.
That’s right: the state of Tennessee has criminalized pregnant women whom the state believes won’t be good mothers, and is well on its way towards criminalizing pregnant women who don’t want to be mothers.
It’s almost as if these right-wingers want to force low-income women to provide slave labor to for-profit prisons, and babies for those adoption-crazy evangelical Christians now that their usual third-world countries and disaster zones are onto their shenanigans and tightening their rules. But that would never happen here in America, because freedom.
What happens to pregnant women if something goes wrong?
Cenk Uyger and Ana Kasparian from The Young Turks point out that the state of Tennessee has three private prisons run by Corrections Corp. of America, and Kasparian explains that… maybe the law really is meant to funnel pregnant women into prison:
“Usually, when you see tough on crime legislation being passed, it’s because it’s from the backing of Geo Group or Corrections Corporation of America. They want more people funnelled into the prison system.”
They also point out that although the law currently only bans illegal drugs, what if it got expanded to include anything that might harm a fetus. Plus, as Uygur explains, the law could lead to all sorts of civil rights abuses:
“Even before the slippery slope, as Ana mentions, if anything goes wrong in your pregnancy, they’re going to investigate you. Now, did you do drugs? Maybe. But the great majority of the time you didn’t, right? But they’ve got to look into it because it’s a crime [to harm a fetus].”
Here’s the video with Kasparian and Uygur’s take on SB 1319’s attack on pregnant women:
SB 1391’s supporters claim they need this law because a staggering nearly half of babies born in the state’s hospitals have drugs in their system and go through horrific and wrenching withdrawals. But if these lawmakers are so danged concerned about babies, why won’t they do anything to help pregnant women struggling with drug addiction?
Al Jazeera reports the system is oversubscribed. Last year, 855 babies in Tennessee had drug withdrawals after being born. Yet, only five clinics accept pregnant women with Medicaid, and (as of Sept.) fewer than 50 spots were available for them.
Pregnant women go into hiding instead of seeking help.
The worst thing about the state of Tennessee’s cruel law criminalizing pregnant women is that it ensures that the fetuses these conservatives profess to care about so much wind up not getting the pre-natal care they need. The Nation article warns
Pregnant women are diving underground in an effort to avoid the fate they’ve seen in mug shots on the local news. They are avoiding prenatal care—and when they do get it, they are switching hospitals at the last minute, leaving the state, or giving birth outside of hospitals in the hope of avoiding prosecution and keeping their children.
The Nation article also points out that when pregnant women try to detox on the down low, their wrenching withdrawals can put their baby at risk. Safer therapies for getting off drugs exist, but they’re not widely available, especially for low-income women.
Tennessee’s maintenance-treatment options for poor women were already scarce, so women who want help are finding little, if any, help. Some are detoxing alone, against the strong recommendations of doctors. Even when women try to get treatment, the state is still taking their children.
It’s becoming more and more obvious that the conservatives behind these regressive bills don’t really care about a fetus, they just care about punishing pregnant women who are low-income, drug-using, of color, or all of the above.