At the beginning of July, 26-year-old Mallory Loyola gave birth to a baby girl. Two days later, the state of Tennessee charged her with assault.
Loyola is the first woman to be arrested under a new law in Tennessee that allows the state to criminally charge mothers for potentially causing harm to their fetuses by using drugs.
“This law was sold as if it were just about illegal narcotics. But sure enough, the first case has nothing to do with illegal narcotics—and nothing actually to do with harm to anybody,” Lynn Paltrow, the executive director of National Advocates for Pregnant Women, which opposes laws that criminalize drug use during pregnancy, told ThinkProgress. “There’s no injury. There’s just a positive drug test.”
Most medical organizations oppose laws such as Tennessee’s, since they make it less likely that a mother will seek help for a drug problem and that they may forgo medical treatment to avoid arrest. “We are already receiving reports of women seeking out non-licensed health providers to avoid having a medical record and risking arrest. This is extremely dangerous,” said Rebecca Terrell, the chair of Healthy and Free Tennessee, which opposed the law.
The law is also being seen as a violation of mothers’ civil rights. “This view of pregnant women essentially means that as soon as you’re carrying a fertilized egg, you’ve lost your medical privacy and your right to make medical decisions,” Paltrow said. “But all matters concerning pregnancy are health care matters. Pregnancy, like other health issues, should be addressed through the public health system and not through the criminal punishment system or the civil child welfare system.”