PRESS RELEASE: Leading Experts & Organizations Challenge Tennessee Medical Association’s Role in New Pregnancy Criminalization Law

JULY 17, 2014

CONTACT: ALEX WALDEN: (202) 587-2868

Pregnancy Justice and More Than 70 Organizations and Medical and Ethics Professionals, Express Concern in Open Letter, Call on TMA to Join Efforts to Repeal the Law and Prioritize Confidential and Compassionate Health Care

New York, NY – Pregnancy Justice, along with more than 70 leading Tennessee, national, and international medial and ethics professionals, and other organizations, released a letter to policymakers and media calling attention to the Tennessee Medical Association’s (TMA) support for a radical new law allowing the arrest of women who become pregnant.

The new Tennessee law that went into effect on July 1 permits arrests of pregnant women for the crime of fetal assault, with special focus on the “illegal use” of “narcotics” by pregnant women. Tennessee is the first state, through legislative action to make pregnant women criminally liable for the outcomes of their pregnancies.

In response to the TMA’s outspoken defense of the law and its role in helping to draft and enact it, Pregnancy Justice, American Association for the Treatment of Opioid Dependence, Healthy and Free Tennessee, International Doctors for Healthy Drug Policies, Global Lawyers and Physicians, SisterReach, and other organizations, and medical and ethics experts sent an open letter today to the TMA to address the Association’s misleading claims about the law in general and the effects of prenatal exposure to opioids, in particular. The letter also corrects the assertion that the law will increase access to methadone and other recommended medication-assisted treatment.

Lynn Paltrow, Executive Director of Pregnancy Justice, said, “Because Tennessee’s law undermines maternal, fetal, and child health – the signatories hope that the TMA will join efforts to educate health care providers, policymakers, judges, and the public about the value of medication-assisted treatment” and work vigorously to repeal the law. Paltrow added, “The TMA should reaffirm its commitment to confidential and compassionate health care – not punishment – for all pregnant women and new mothers.”

Many state legislatures have considered and rejected similar laws. There has been overwhelming, consistent opposition to such laws from national and state based medical groups and leaders. Unlike the medical associations and experts in other states, the TMA worked with politicians to develop this punitive law.

Ruth R. Faden, PhD, MPH, Director of the Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics and signatory to this letter said, “The TMA’s participation in the development of a law that criminalizes patients in this way is radically out of step with the mainstream medical community and bioethics standards.” She explained, “The role of medical providers is not to negotiate lesser criminal penalties for pregnant patients and new mothers but to advocate for policies that promote the health and well-being of women and their babies.”

As a result of the Tennessee law, on July 10th, Mallory Loyola was charged with assault after she tested positive for a non-narcotic drug and gave birth to a newborn who also tested positive but is not reported as experiencing any injury. She is the first mother to be charged under this law.