Pregnant belly

(Meredith) -- Expectant mothers who use illegal drugs while pregnant could face assault charges in Tennessee if their babies are harmed or born addicted to narcotics. 

Rep. Terri Lynn Weaver (R-Lancaster) and Sen. Janice Bowling (R-Tullahoma) recently introduced House Bill 1168, which aims to deter drug abuse and help women get treatment. 

It would allow the women to avoid jail time and have their assault convictions removed if they enroll in an addiction recovery program while pregnant and successfully complete the program after delivery.

If passed, the law would go into effect July 1, 2019.

Weaver sponsored a nearly identical bill that passed the Tennessee legislature in 2014, making it the first state with an explicit criminal offense for addicted mothers. However, the law included a "sunset" clause, which allowed it to expire after two years.

According to a 2016 report from the Associated Press, some doctors said the previous law backfired and encouraged women to avoid prenatal care, exposing their babies to more risks. 

“As soon as the law was passed, very quickly I started to see women with drug addictions seeking prenatal care later and later in their pregnancies and seeking treatment for their addiction later in pregnancy,” said Dr. Jessica Young, who runs an outpatient program for pregnant addicts at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. 

“And what they would tell me is that they would attempt to self-detox at home, attempt to stop at home without any treatment because they were afraid of what would happen if they admitted they had a problem,” she continued.

Other states, like Alabama and South Carolina, also arrest women who abuse drugs during pregnancy on charges such as child endangerment or assault -- and those prosecutions are rising, according to the Associated Press.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Copyright 2019 Meredith Corporation. All rights reserved.

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